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Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
AG2R-La Mondiale goes on the attack
AG2R La Mondiale's Jean-Christophe Péraud, currently fourth overall at this year's Tour de France, continues to threaten the current top three for a podium position, and took one step closer to it when he attacked the group of favourites on the final climb up to Pla d'Adet on stage 17 on Wednesday.
Péraud's teammate Romain Bardet also put in another good ride, consigning the bad day he had on Tuesday's stage to Luchon as one to learn from, but to ultimately forget.
Instead, Bardet – one place behind Péraud in the general classification, in fifth – went on the attack on the final descent to try to distance his rivals, and then played the perfect teammate on the climb up to the finish, where Péraud attacked with race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"It was a short stage today, but a great battle," said Bardet. "I attacked on the descent to test my rivals and in the hope of pulling back some of the time I lost yesterday."
Although the 23-year-old Frenchman was caught by the 'yellow-jersey group', which included race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), second-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and third-placed Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). When Péraud subsequently attacked, distancing Valverde, Bardet was able to sit behind Pinot.
"When Jean-Christophe went away on the final climb, the team's objective was clear: to try to get Jean-Christophe on the podium," Bardet said. "I then tried to do as little as possible, and am very happy to still be in the top five overall.
"It was a bit of a risk for Romain to attack from so far out, and on such a dangerous descent, but Romain wanted to do it, and he arrived at the start of the last climb with a 30-second advantage," said AG2R directeur sportif Julien Jurdie.
"And then Jean-Christophe had a great day, being able to follow Nibali on the final climb, just like at Risoul [on stage 14 in the Alps]. Today, he did everything to close the gap on Pinot and Valverde, who finished with Romain, so it was an excellent day for us. The last day in the Pyrenees tomorrow [Thursday] will be very difficult, however, with the climbs of both the Tourmalet and the finish on Hautacam, but I hope now that we're going see Saturday's time trial as a good day for us," Jurdie said, referring to Péraud's superior ability against the clock versus Valverde and Pinot.
"I used Romain's attack on the descent as a kind of relay for me, and he was an amazing help today," said 37-year-old Péraud in praise of his younger teammate. "It's thanks to him that I finished up at the front today.
"I'm super-happy about how I'm going," Péraud continued. "To succeed in hanging on to Nibali in the third week is really something, but he's a gear above everyone else."
As to whether he thought he'd be able to overhaul his rivals in the time trial and secure a place on the Tour podium, Péraud wouldn't be drawn.
"We'll find out on the Champs-Elysées," he said, referring to the final stage of the race in Paris, implying that the race isn't over until it's over.
"I can have a bad day tomorrow and lose everything I've gained. But I'm certainly going to fight for a podium position," said Péraud.