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Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Frenchman focused on high overall placing
Stage 5 of the Tour de France was Romain Bardet's (Ag2r-La Mondiale) first experience of racing on the pavé but it hardly showed as the 23-year-old arrived in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut with several of his GC rivals including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
While Chris Froome (Team Sky) never made it onto the cobbles and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) had mechanical problems, Bardet defended his 11th place overall and sits 2:11 minutes behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"It was a crazy stage," he said. "I have never done something like this on a bike, it was really epic. I knew it would be a big fight from the start and Froome has paid the price. There were three inches of mud in the first sector, I even asked if I could get a mountain bike from a recreational cycling to have a bit more stability.
Despite asking for a change in bikes, Bardet remained upright on the slippery and muddy cobbles and also avoided falling on the flat wet roads which claimed numerous victims.
Riding for most of the stage with the Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp) group but behind Nibali, Bardet explained the treacherous conditions on the stage made a tough day in the saddle.
"I left the first sector with the first group, but I had to brake slowdown before the second sector," he said. "I returned to 40th position and from there everyone was trying to stay on two wheels to keep their place. I have rarely seen such a slippery surface.
"Finally, I did not do too bad as I have no experience on the pavé. I felt good and limited the damage. I will take each day as it comes."
With two flat stages to come before the Tour makes its first foray into the mountains, Bardet is still wary of losing time to his rivals due to inattention on non-GC days and is taking it day-by-day.
"Tomorrow there will be more stress, maybe a little less today but with the wind you never know," he said. "Even though I'm still up for the general classification I lost a little time to some direct rivals for the Top 10. It is important to stay focused and vigilant in the Tour de France."
While Bardet consolidated his place at the pointy end of the overall classification, teammate and fellow captain Jean-Christophe Péraud suffered a puncture on the cobbles and is now sitting in 24th overall, 3:29 minutes down on Nibali.