It has been an ill-starred Tour de France for Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), but the Frenchman tried to put a different complexion on his race when he attacked on the Col du Tourmalet with over 100 kilometres of stage 19 still remaining.
The move began when Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) attacked from the peloton, and Bardet didn't need a second invitation as he bounded across to join them. Together with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), they bridged across to the remnants of the day's early break and established a lead of 3 minutes in the long valley that followed the mighty pass.
Bardet was still at the head of the race over the Col des Bordères and the lower slopes of the Col d'Aubisque, but the forcing of Team Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo saw the escapees joined by the dwindling yellow jersey group on the final ascent.
"It was the only strategy I could take, as I was a long way back on GC and I couldn't wait until the last climb to attack," Bardet said after reaching the finish in Laruns in third place on the stage, 19 seconds behind winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).
"Today, with a col as a hard as the Tourmalet, it was a stage where you could go on the attack and try to make a big operation. That's what I tried to do, and it worked pretty well in the group with Mikel Landa."
Bardet lost all hope of a podium finish after he struggled on the Col du Portet on Wednesday, but he showed considerable resilience here to remain a part of the front group amid the low clouds atop the Col d'Aubisque. A group of ten riders tackled the 20km descent to the finish together at the head of the race, but Roglic managed to open a gap midway down and then power away to claim the stage honours. With the time bonuses in mind, yellow jersey Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) won the sprint for second, while Bardet beat Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) to third.
"I believed in victory until the end but on the descent, it was Roglic and [Tom] Dumoulin who were in front and against rouleurs like that it was difficult," Bardet said. "I gambled on a sprint, but once we gave Roglic 15 metres, it was impossible to get him back. It's unfortunate. You don't only need legs to win, you need a bit of luck too, and I didn't have it today."
Bardet lies in seventh place overall, 5:15 behind Thomas, ahead of Saturday's time trial to Espelette. After placing on the podium in each of the past two Tours and winning a stage in 2015, his 2018 race is understandably tinged with disappointment, even if he endeavoured to finish on a high note.
"I decided to attack on the Tourmalet to take a bit of pleasure on this Tour, as that wasn't the case in the earlier stages," Bardet said. "My legs were a bit better today. They responded well. I believed in the win right to the end, but I've come up short again. I know that we could have done more on this Tour, but it didn't smile on us. It's very disappointing, but that's how it is."