Romain Bardet stepped up to defend France's honour after Julian Alaphilippe faltered on the final steep climb of Höttinger Höll in the UCI Road World Championships elite men's road race, but the AG2R La Mondiale rider could only watch as Alejandro Valverde lead out the sprint and finally won the world title. Bardet got the better of Michael Woods (Canada) to take the silver medal but it was of little consolation with the rainbow jersey within his grasp but just out of reach.
"We were close to victory so we can't be satisfied with second place in the biggest race in the world," Bardet said.
"Of course it's really difficult to beat Valverde on a flat finish, he's one of the fastest in a bunch sprint, especially after a hard race, so I have no regrets. I don't think I could have done anything else. I was just hoping he would be dropped or that my guys would come back up for a tactical finish. But on a flat finish, it's always hard to beat Valverde."
Bardet is best known for his Grand Tour abilities but he also loves to race and again proved he can fight for victory in the hardest and most prestigious one-day races. He loyally respected France's tactic of setting up Alaphilippe and only took over a leadership role when his teammate cracked due to cramps on the steep slopes of Höttinger Höll.
"I think the French were remarkable, racing with courage and self-sacrifice, we can be happy with that if not with the result," he said of Les Blues, who ended with race with Alaphilippe eighth and Thibaut Pinot ninth. There is no team prize in the world championships but France were arguably the best nation. Alaphilippe was just unable to fulfil his role of a finisher and be there with Valverde on Höttinger Höll.
"We made a good effort with a well-drilled tactic, we put a lot of people in trouble," Bardet said proudly.
"We rode to put Julian in the best position for the final climb because he has an amazing one-minute effort. After he struggled and said he had cramps, I knew it was up to me. You never know what can happen in the final of a race after 250km of racing. The final result is a disappointment but we couldn't really have done anything else."
Bardet was forced to reach down and resolve a gear problem over the top of the final climb with eight kilometres to go. He laughed about it as he talked about his race but admitted it could have cost him dearly.
"It was totally my fault and for a second I was scared to lose everything," he explained.
"I tried to put the chain on the big ring but I was on the 32 sprocket behind. When you're giving you all, you always think about things like that.
"I tried to attack just afterwards on the flat road but everyone was tired. I was scared of being dropped, too, and so rode thinking about the finish. I was there but finished second but it was still a great race, it was an incredible today."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.