Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) came to a standstill beyond the finish line on stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné and, after a brief moment to catch his breath, ushered the waiting media over, telling them he was "happy" with his time trial performance, and that it "augurs well" for the remainder of the race. When television had had their fill, however, Bardet was finally informed of the exact time gaps by the written press, and his face fell.
"1:53 to Richie Porte, Romain."
"Ah, that's a lot," he replied, visibly taken aback for a moment. "I thought it would be a bit less…"
Nevertheless, he still stuck to his original take that it had been a good day on the bike. "I'm still happy with my feelings today," he added.
The Dauphiné time trial was Bardet's second of the season, and his second poor one – third overall going into the final day of the Vuelta al País Vasco, he dropped to 15th, with team management suggesting he misjudged his warm-up. At the Dauphiné, he had been out to recon the 23.5km course and hoped to lose no more than a minute to his rivals, but ceded between 1:30 and 1:15 to Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador, and Chris Froome, not to mention the 1:53 to Porte.
Bardet is no natural time triallist but he has worked on the discipline over the winter and has even been in close collaboration with Factor over the development of its first ever TT bike. Despite there being just 36.5km of time trialling at this year's Tour de France, the losses against the clock so far have been concerning.
"My time trialling, it's still a work in progress. It's only my second one of the year. It's the start of June and we're making progress," said Bardet in defence.
"I did the maximum, and had no regrets on the line. I think I did a good effort. It was a course for the true specialists with lots of downhill false flats. I tried to limit the damage on the uphill sections but I was a little bit short of power. But I'm quite happy with my performance, and the way my body reacted. It augurs well for this weekend."
This weekend will see Bardet finally enter his favoured terrain as a back-to-back trio of mountain stages are set to decide the Dauphiné and set the tone ahead of the Tour de France.
The 26-year-old, however, has left himself with an awful lot to do, even if he managed to prize open the race last year to take second, much as he did at the Tour the following month.
"I knew the mountains were a long way from the start of the Dauphiné, but once tomorrow is out of the way we'll be a bit more on our terrain," said Bardet.
"For sure, it's a lot. Richie is a big time trial specialist, but he's also a very good climber, so it's true that makes things complicated for this Dauphiné. It's true there's a big gap but I think on the other hand there are a fair few climbers like me who have conceded a bit of time, so that will influence the way things play out in the mountains."
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