The Spaniard, who won the Tour of Luxembourg earlier this month, was the only rider able to follow when Bardet attacked 8.6km from the summit of the 21.3km final climb, his team having shredded the 80-rider peloton.
The duo climbed the rest of the exposed mountain together, with Herrada looking utterly at ease as he comfortably responded to a series of accelerations from Bardet in the final 3km. With 400 metres to go, he launched a big attack of his own and surged clear, beating his chest as he crossed the line.
Bardet, who had finished 10th overall at the Criterium du Dauphine barely 24 hours previously, crossed the line nine seconds down, with Rein Taaramae (Total Direct Energie) taking the final spot on the podium more than a minute back.
The organisers of Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenges had run Gran Fondos in recent years but put on a 1.1 UCI-classified race for the professionals this year, offering a one-day event for pure climbers. The route packed 4,100 metres of elevation gain into the 173km route, with six more minor climbs leading towards the mighty Mont Ventoux, one of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France.
A five-rider breakaway went clear early on, containing Brice Feillu (Arkea-Samsic), Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural), Remy Rochas (Delko Marseille Provence), Angelo Tulik (Total Direct Energie), Mario Gonzalez (Euskadi-Murias). It was clear it was all going to come down to the final ascent, with the peloton almost at full capacity as they kept the break on a relatively short leash over the Col de Toulourenc, Col des Aires, Col de l’Homme Mort, Côte de Gordes at 116km, Col des Trois Termes, and Côte de Blauvac.
The climb up Mont Ventoux measured 21.3km, with an average gradient of 7.4 per cent that was mitigated by a gentle opening six kilometres. After that, it was well over 8 per cent as the road climbed through the trees past Bedoin and then out onto the exposed mountainside past Chalet Reynard.
It was Herrada’s and Bardet’s teams that laid the foundations, Cofidis setting the pace on the lower slopes to bring back most of the break, before AG2R hit the front en masse, catching the last two survivors, Feulli and Aranburu, on hit the steeper gradients.
AG2R then worked through their team as the peloton quickly diminished. There were just 13 riders in contention when Bardet’s last man, Tony Gallopin, took control with 11km to go, and just four when he finished his turn 2.5km later. Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First) and Elie Gesbert (Arkea-Samsic) were unable to hold the pace, leaving just Taaramae and Adrien Guillonet (Interpro Cycling Academy) with Bardet and Herrada.
As soon as Gallopin pulled off, Bardet made his move, but the writing was perhaps already on the wall when Herrada followed with ease. They had 20 seconds on the chasing Taaramae as they passed Chalet Reynard with just over 6km to go, and it was clear it was a two-man tussle.
Body language can be deceptive, but Herrada clearly seemed the more comfortable of the two, wearing a cool expression as sweat dripped from Bardet’s hair. The Frenchman issued his first dig with 2.7km to go, but Herrada was swiftly on the case. He tried a bigger one with 1.9km to go but again Herrada, despite talking a couple of seconds to spot it, was comfortable in getting back on terms. 500 metres later, it was the same outcome. Bardet then tried a couple of small accelerations but Herrada looked to be riding within himself.
It was little surprise, then, that when the Spaniard turned the tables and went on the offensive himself, it was utterly decisive. He kicked on the steep slopes with 400 metres to go and, despite a spirited response from Bardet, was quickly and cleanly away. He rounded the final bend and celebrated as he crossed the line, collecting a fifth victory of the season while a frustrated Bardet was made to wait for his first.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||5:02:05|
|2||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:09|
|3||Rein Taaramäe (Est) Total Direct Energie||0:01:12|
|4||Julien El Fares (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM||0:01:38|
|5||Elie Gesbert (Fra) Arkéa Samsic||0:02:24|
|6||Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Delko Marseille Provence KTM||0:02:29|
|7||Pierpaolo Ficara (Ita) Amore Vita-Prodir||0:02:40|
|8||Oscar Rodriguez Garaicoechea (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias||0:02:43|
|9||Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:02:52|
|10||Darwin Atapuma (Col) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:02:58|