Romain Bardet came to a dead stop as his front wheel touched the finish line atop La Planche des Belles Filles during stage 6 at the Tour de France, apparently the victim of a mechanical that prevented him from pedalling any further. But the problems for the 28-year-old French hope and AG2r La Mondiale leader started much earlier on the mountain.
Bardet struggled to stick with his general classification rivals as the big names started hitting out on the final climb of the day, the 7km ascent to the mountain town that hit pitches of 20 per cent at the top. By the time he climbed off his bike at the finish line, Bardet had ceded a minute or more to fellow pre-race favourites Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal of Team Ineos, Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa, Astana's Jakob Fuglsang and Trek-Segafredo's Richie Porte, with a handful of other GC contenders gaining just less than a minute.
"I had a leg problem," Bardet said in a statement released by his team. "I was not at the level today. That's the hard and bitter truth. I will try to understand what happened."
Bardet started the season with a solid build up to the Tour, starting out in France at Tour du Haut Var and Paris-Nice before putting together a nice run though the Ardennes Classics and Criterium du Dauphine, but an infection he picked up at the Tour tune-up race slowed him down for the inaugural Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, where he finished second to Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), causing some to speculate that he needed more time to recover from the illness and shouldn't have been racing.
Bardet had a quiet Tour up until Thursday, finishing with the bunch on the sprint days and managing his team's 19th place finish in the stage 2 team time trial to come into the first mountain test 46th overall, 1:44 behind race leader Julian Alaphlippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but in close proximity to most of his GC rivals. He climbed to 26th overall after Thursday's stage, but he's now 2:57 off the race lead and more than a minute behind most of the pre-race favourites.
Nevertheless, Bardet has not thrown in the towel on a GC result and decided to start hunting stages, indicating there's a lot of racing left before the final podium is decided in Paris.
"I'm still motivated for this Tour," he said. "There is still plenty to do, but first I have to understand what happened and why I suffered like that in the last kilometre."