France's new cycling superstar, Romain Bardet, demonstrated that star quality again on Friday's 13th Tour de France stage in the Alps by finishing seventh – 1:23 behind winner Vincenzo Nibali – and moving up the general classification to now sit third overall.
But the 23-year-old AG2R La Mondiale rider – who's also wearing the white jersey as the Tour's best young rider, just 16 seconds ahead of compatriot Thibaut Pinot – played down his performance on the race's first day in the high mountains, despite what is now a very serious possibility of him finishing on the podium in Paris.
Like many others – and Sky's Richie Porte, in particular, who lost almost nine minutes on Friday's stage – Bardet admitted that the hot temperatures were an added difficulty on the final climb up to Chamrousse.
"Richie is an excellent rider, but it was very hot today, and anybody could have a bad day on a day like this," he said.
But Porte's bad day allowed Bardet to move up from fourth place overall to third, while the Australian plummeted from second place to 16th, with Spain's Alejandro Valverde jumping from third to second, now 3:37 behind overall leader Nibali.
"I was feeling quite confident before the final climb, although, due to the heat, I couldn't follow the best riders," explained Bardet. "But it wasn't really the perfect stage for me, either, so I was happy to limit my losses.
"I prefer a different kind of climb," he continued. "The speed was high right from the bottom of the climb, and, at those kind of gradients [average 7.3 per cent], it's hard to drop your rivals. That was why I had to attack towards the end because nobody wanted to ride with us. I settled for riding with Tejay van Garderen [BMC] to try to claw back some time on the riders who had dropped us earlier on the climb [notably Nibali, Valverde and Pinot].
"I knew that it would be very hard to beat a rider like Nibali today," Bardet admitted, who'll now look forward to some familiar climbs on Saturday's 14th stage, from Grenoble to the summit finish in Risoul – a stage he hopes will suit him even better.
"I know both Risoul and the Izoard very, very well," he explained. "I don't know how much action there'll be on the Izoard [the penultimate climb], but it would be a good thing for me if there was some. Looking ahead, the mountains in the Pyrenees are then also going to be very difficult."
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