Bardet surprised by tight margins at Tour de France

'I thought there would be bigger gaps,' says Frenchman

Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) is surprised by the tight margins atop the general classification of the Tour de France but the Frenchman does not believe that riders have been saving themselves for the race’s tough final week in the Alps.

After nine stages of the Tour, Bardet lies sixth overall, just 44 seconds off the maillot jaune of Chris Froome (Sky). Only 1:01 separates the top ten riders on general classification on the first rest day, compared to 1:59 at the same point a year ago. On that occasion, the Tour had yet to reach the mountains, whereas this year, the overall contenders have already tested one another on three successive days in the Pyrenees.

“I thought there would be bigger gaps than that in the general classification,” Bardet said at his rest day press conference, according to L’Équipe. “Are the leaders holding a bit more back for the third week? I don’t think so. Yesterday, everybody was pushing it. It’s all the better for the spectacle if the levels are evening out.”

Bardet conceded 21 seconds to Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) and Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) on Sunday when he was unable to track their final accelerations amid the downpour on the upper slopes of the climb to Arcalis, but he declared himself broadly satisfied with his showing on the Tour to this point.

“I lost my bearings a bit with the rain and my sensations weren’t as good. On a steady climb like that, you need to be on the right wheel. I thought that [Bauke] Mollema was strong and in fact he left a gap open. I waited a bit behind him and that was an error, I left 20 seconds behind,” Bardet said.

“These have been my best first ten days at a Tour de France. I managed to avoid the pitfalls in the first week and my legs are responding well. I was at ease in the Pyrenees even though that’s the mountain range I like the least.”

The next major rendezvous of the Tour is likely to be the summit finish atop Mont Ventoux on Thursday, which followed 24 hours later by a 37-kilometre time trial to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc.

“It will be a key moment,” Bardet said, noting that the combination of the Ventoux and the time trial could shake up the general classification. “For the GC riders, it will be a chance to land a big psychological blow. I did the Ventoux in 2013 and it’s not my favourite climb. Up to Chalet Reynard, it’s really terrible. The mountain will be very hard whatever happens.”

After Thibaut Pinot’s travails on the opening two days in the Pyrenees and Warren Barguil’s struggles on the road to Andorra, Bardet is the best-placed Frenchman in the overall standings, but he shrugged off the importance of finishing ahead of his fellow countrymen in Paris. “I’m not interested in drawing attention to that. And there are other French riders who aren’t out of it. We’ve got a very good generation of riders in France.”

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