Tour de France: Bardet slips into irrelevance after another torrid time trial

Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) didn't stop at the finish line on stage 13 of the Tour de France, nor at his team's camper van 200 metres down the road. He kept going, deeper and deeper into Pau, disappearing into the distance.

It took more than 10 minutes for him to resurface, by which point the huddle of reporters waiting for him had dispersed. Fellow Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) were about to finish. There were different priorities now.

As he clambered quietly into the camper, Bardet might have caught a glimpse of the swarm of microphones hanging on Pinot's every word. As he drove off, he might have heard the roar that went up as Alaphilippe crossed the line in the yellow jersey, victorious. 

It was a sad scene, and one that seemed to capture Bardet's fall from grace. Once the darling of the home media and fans, whose 2016 and 2017 podiums officially instated him as France's 'next great hope', Bardet has slipped into irrelevance at this Tour. It's a fickle business, superstardom.

"My goal is to rediscover the level I had in previous years," the 28-year-old would eventually say, via a team press release.

Already on the back foot after losing a minute on the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6, Bardet continued to fall down the standings after Friday's time trial in Pau. He was the slowest of the GC contenders on the rolling 27.2km course, losing 2:26 to Alaphilippe and 1:33 to Pinot. It left him 17th overall, 5:46 off the yellow jersey and almost two minutes off the top 10.

"I'm searching for good sensations at this Tour and the time trial didn't give me the answers I was looking for," he concluded. 

He defended his unusual bike change, which saw him use a machine with traditional geometry on the hilly opening half of the course, before switching to a pure time trial bike for the flatter final section. It was a slow change, and arguably negated any of the supposed benefits.

"The bike change was designed to find a balance between my physical capabilities and the profile of the parcours," he said. "For me, it was the best solution."

Time trialling has been a perennial achilles heel for Bardet, and expectations were low in the AG2R La Mondiale camp. Yet the damage ended up being worse than they'd imagined. 

"It was a complicated day," said Bardet's directeur sportif, Julien Jurdie. "It's clear that two minutes on the principal favourites for the Tour de France is a lot. Our estimations were more like a minute, so, voilà, there's disappointment, there's frustration. We thought we could do a lot better today. 

"We noticed on the early uphill part that Romain lacked power, punch, strength. It was counter-intuitive, because he wasn't so bad on the flat part, but was in a bit of difficulty on the uphills. It's difficult to explain."

Bardet's performance as a whole at this Tour de France is difficult to explain. It's equally difficult to see where he goes from here. Improving on his two podiums is surely out of the question – as is equalling them. Results seem secondary now; he's looking for a sign of life.

"I want to continue this Tour de France by not looking back, and by being offensive," Bardet said. "My goal now is to rediscover the level I had in previous years."

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