Four years ago, Warren Barguil beat Rigoberto Uran by a few millimetres in the 16th stage of the Vuelta a España in Formigal. On that occasion, the French rider, then only 21 years old, quickly raised his arms in the air. He was confident that he'd won and his gut feeling turned out to be right.
Fast forward to the ninth stage of the 2017 Tour de France, and the same riders throw their bikes to the finish line in Chambéry after a monstrous stage through the Jura. Again, the difference between Barguil (Sunweb) and Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) is only a few millimetres. Again, Barguil throws his hands in the air. This time though, his gut feeling betrayed him as the Colombian rider won the stage. Barguil was already celebrating, bursting into tears after a long day on the attack, cresting three hors categorié climbs and multiple others.
"I would've preferred to have been runner-up back then and have won today,” Barguil said.
Barguil was welcomed on the podium nonetheless, and awarded with the polka-dot jersey and the 'Prix de la Combativité' as consolation prizes. The now 25-year-old rider was hardly consoled.
"I'm frustrated, especially after spending a day in the front," Barguil aid. "I thought that I had won. It's hard but that's sport."
Reaching this level at the Tour de France was hardly straightforward. Just over two months ago, Barguil fractured his pelvis in the Tour de Romandie.
"I came a long way. My pelvis was fractured in four pieces. Surgery wasn't necessary, but they said the Tour was in doubt. Miraculously, after three weeks everything was back in place," Barguil said.
Barguil participated in the Critérium du Dauphiné, unsurprisingly without scoring major results, but he made the cut for the Sunweb Tour team. In the opening stages, Barguil tried hard to force things his way, but without success.
"At the start of the Tour I was too impatient. My legs were dead and empty," Barguil said.
On Saturday, Barguil featured in the breakaway group but he might have wasted too much energy before the finale of the stage. On Sunday, Barguil was less generous in his pulls, and he saved the best for last. He allowed Jan Bakelants (AG2R) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) to gain a gap just before the final climb and saved his effort for the point where the gradient began to bite.
Barguil crested the top of the Mont du Chat alone, with a gap of nearly half a minute on the favourites group. "I didn't race like an idiot, like on Saturday," Barguil said. "I received a massive amount of support on the Mont du Chat. It was great."
After the descent of the Mont du Chat, AG2R's Romain Bardet bridged up to Barguil. On a short climb soon afterwards, Barguil was dropped and fell back to the chase group with Chris Froome (Team Sky), Uran and Astana riders Fabio Aru and Jakob Fuglsang.
"Once I was caught back I struggled to even hold onto the wheels," Barguil said. "I thought about giving up and just get the final spot in the group. Then I refocused."
Two kilometres from the finish, the group bridged back up to Bardet, who had struggled to ride alone into the headwind. Stage victory was suddenly a possibility again.
"I think I did a good sprint. I checked and saw that there were 300 metres to go. In the end, I probably waited half a second too long. I passed Rigo after the line. It's frustrating," Barguil said, adding that the finish line was placed on a slight bend. "The line was closer to the other side of the road. Otherwise I would've won."
After the first nine days of the Tour de France, Barguil now tops the mountains classification. He scored 60 points, 53 of which came during Sunday's stage. In the classification, Barguil is 30 points ahead of Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).
"I had great fun today," he said. "I tried to finish it off. I came close. I'll try again after the flat stages. I'll try to defend the jersey until the end. Last year I missed the opportunity. This year I've got a chance. It's on the big climbs that one has to make a move. That's where the big points are, not on the category 2 and 3 climbs."