AG2R La Mondiale leader Romain Bardet appears to have found his old climbing and stage-racing legs at this year's Tour de France. The Frenchman – who finished second at the 2016 Tour and third the following year – seems to have put the disappointment of last year's race behind him, and moved up to fourth overall on Saturday, and then defended his position with another strong ride on stage 9 on Sunday.
The 29-year-old moved up to fourth overall following a strong ride on Saturday's eighth stage between Cazères-sur-Garonne and Loudenvielle, and then came home eighth on stage 9 in Laruns, just 11 seconds down on the lead five riders: winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), new race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Sunweb's Marc Hirschi, defending champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Bahrain McLaren's Mikel Landa.
Bardet called it his "best day of the week" and showed further confidence in perhaps having rediscovered his old self by stating that he was "optimistic for the future".
He is still fourth overall, now 30 seconds behind Roglič, and two seconds ahead of both Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and EF Pro Cycling's Rigoberto Uran, who lie fifth and sixth, respectively.
"I was at the limit, but I had the legs to jostle with the best," Bardet said in a team press release on Sunday evening. "I didn't really time things perfectly – and I blame myself for that – but at the finish, we were only 11 seconds down.
"We [the chase group] worked well together, but it would have been good for the morale to have been able to bridge to the front group," he added. "Today was my best day of the week, so I'm optimistic for the future."
The comments are in stark contrast to Bardet's race last year, and to how compatriot Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is now feeling, having fallen out of contention for the yellow jersey on stage 8 on Saturday, which was another huge blow after having to quit last year's race when in good form due to a thigh injury.
Last year, Bardet didn't have the legs to compete for the GC, but ended up targeting – and winning – the polka-dot jersey as the 2019 Tour's best climber. He said ahead of this year's Tour that he would be targeting stage wins, but while he still sits in fourth place overall, a podium place must surely be worth striving for.
However, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) – currently two seconds and one place in front of Bardet overall in third, 28 seconds behind Roglič – arguably still looks like the Frenchman most likely, despite his relative inexperience when compared to both Bardet and Pinot.
Bardet's AG2R teammate, Benoît Cosnefroy, meanwhile, continues to hold this year's 'king of the mountains' jersey, and the French public's attention, and will be able to enjoy the rest day in the Charente-Maritime department on Monday following a transfer north to France's west coast, during which he, Bardet and team manager Vincent Lavenu will be able to work out the best way to approach the coming week, and beyond.
"I took another point today [Sunday]; it's always good to take a point," Cosnefroy said, who leads the mountains competition by five points from teammate Nans Peters and by 10 points from Hirschi. "I'm proud and happy to come out of the Pyrenees with this jersey."
With Peters also having won stage 8 on Saturday, AG2R's 2020 Tour de France is already looking every bit as successful as they hoped it would be.
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