Tour de France: Bardet encouraged by first mountain test

Frenchman inches up the rankings

France's hope for the overall victory in the Tour de France, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), didn't disappoint on the first major mountaintop finish of La Planche des Belles Filles.

Bardet was one of the few riders who were able to follow the move of triple Tour de France winner Christopher Froome (Team Sky) when he accelerated in the final two kilometres. On the final steepest sections, Bardet had to let go of the top guns, losing four seconds on the line, but finished just ahead of pre-race favourites like Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). He's now seventh in the general classification at 47 seconds from Froome.

After crossing the finish line of the punchy climb in Massif des Vosges, the 26-year-old French rider quickly sat down in the shade to recover. With his leg still bandaged up and showing the marks from his crash on stage 2, Bardet was gasping for air and sweating after a hot day in the saddle and was not ready for interviews just yet. He did exchange a few words with the teammates who rolled in, one by one. A few minutes later, Bardet – still breathing heavily – climbed onto his bike to warm down on the rollers.

"I feared the first mountains stage a bit and the heat. I didn't go too bad," Bardet said. "I was able to follow Froome when he attacked, and Porte. Then a small group bridged back up. It came down to the final steep hundred metres. I think Fabio Aru was clearly the strongest today. He was the only rider who was able to attack and create a big gap. 'Chapeau' for him. He went from far out and was super strong to hold onto his lead. Behind him, I was happy that I was able to follow the attack from Froome. That's good. It's reassuring to see that I was up there."

When asked if he felt that he was on the same level as Froome and Porte, Bardet reacted positively. "Yes, sure. It's a matter of being up there for three weeks. It was a good first test. It was especially hard with the heat. It was dry, too. It was like a time-trial. As usual, Team Sky set a blistering pace from the foot of the climb. Behind them, not everybody was on the same level so that was encouraging for me."

When asked about his need for recovery on the line, Bardet didn't like the question very much, quickly responding. "I wasn't thinking about anything. It was 35 degrees out there and I just gave it 110 per cent. I wanted to get a bit of air and sit in the shade," Bardet said. Bardet was then ushered away from the press and prepared to head back down from La Planche des Belles Filles. The runner-up of the 2016 Tour de France is clearly on a mission. He's ready to confirm the high hopes and again be a major factor in the GC battle.

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