Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) had already made himself a home hero at this year’s Tour de France with his victory to Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne. Huge cheers followed him wherever he went on Friday morning but those will only be louder now that the 22-year-old heads into the last mountain stage with the polka-dot jersey on his back.
“This jersey is very unexpected. I welcome it with great joy,” Bardet said after the stage. “I did not think I would be wearing it. To have it so close to the arrival at Paris, it's something big. This is all the more moving. Nothing is done but I will enjoy it whatever happens.”
Bardet began the day second in the classification but equal on points with Joaquim Rodriguez. It was clear from the word go that the young Frenchman was interested in taking polka dots. With 60 points available throughout the stage, Bardet and Rodríguez were intent on making it into the break. Rodríguez hit out first and took the full complement of 10 points on the Col de Chaussy.
“This is the first day that I did everything for the mountain classification. I was left by Joaquim Rodriguez tired alone on the first climb, the Col de Chaussy,” Bardet explained. “Anyway, I did not have the legs to do better. Then I made the descent to the bottom and Rodriguez marked me well. I wanted to score points in the hors category (Col de la Croix de Fer) and rely on my consistency for a good result in La Toussuire, where points were doubled.”
Fortunately for Bardet, Rodríguez cracked on the second ascent of the day, the Col de la Croix de Fer, as they were caught by the yellow jersey group. Bardet dug in again to go clear of the group and mop up another 16 points. After seeing his efforts of the previous stage, the peloton kept him on a close leash, though, and a forced bike change brought him back to the bunch.
Bardet looked none the worse for his efforts, however, and held onto the group of favourites to move himself up a spot in the general classification and earn some crucial points at the finish on La Toussuire. The big challenge from behind is no longer from Rodríguez but from the race leader Chris Froome, who is just three points behind Bardet. With 50 points available at the finish, Bardet will have to go on the attack once again if he wants to take his first Grand Tour jersey.
“I will try to do my best to defend it but it will be a tough battle with Chris, and for sure he will be better than me but we don’t know and I will do my best and just enjoy the moment,” he said. “This will play out in the head because everyone is exhausted. It's a jersey that thrills French audiences. We must use this enthusiasm to sublimate. This does not depend only on me because the battle for the yellow jersey will take place. Today, Froome was trying to get behind me. We feel that he is interested in the jersey. It will be difficult for me.”