Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is the sole bearer of home hopes at this Tour de France and the Frenchman maintained his podium challenge on what was, in so many ways, a trying day on the road to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc on Friday.
The Frenchman surrendered almost three minutes to Chris Froome (Sky) over the 37.5-kilometre time trial in the Ardéche and he now lies in 7th place overall, some 4:04 behind the Briton, but only 1:19 off a podium place.
The stage was run off in a rather doleful atmosphere, as France woke to the news that 84 people had been killed in a terrorist atrocity during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice on Thursday evening, and Bardet tweeted a message of solidarity before he set off on his effort.
Out on the road, Bardet was one of many to struggle with the blustery conditions, and at one point he visibly struggled to keep his low profile bike in a straight line on a descent. Indeed, earlier in the afternoon, his fellow countryman Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) had come a cropper at more or less the same point.
"It was difficult and I was affected like everybody by the wind and the rolling roads," Bardet said after finishing in 30th place, 3:52 behind Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). "It was difficult to get back to racing after what happened last night [in Nice]. It was difficult to sleep after that news and sport is relative in conditions like that. But I gave my all. I really gave everything I had in my locker today. I'm still finding my way as a time triallist. I'm glad it’s behind me."
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Friday's time trial, in fact, was Bardet's longest such effort since the concluding test of the 2014 Tour in Bergerac, and he declared himself pleased to have limited his losses to the rest of the contenders for the final podium in Paris, and indeed gain on Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Fabio Aru (Astana).
"I lost a few seconds at the top of the first climb and that distracted me. I hadn't done a time trial longer than 15 kilometres since 2014, it's not an exercise that I enjoy at all. But I limited my losses and my terrain is in the high mountains."
The Tour's second time trial to Megeve is a mountainous one, while the race's trek through the Alps will be better-suited to Bardet's characteristics, given his longstanding preference for its regular gradients over the more uneven passes of the Pyrenees. A place in the top five – he fell just short in 2014 – remains a realistic objective, given that he trails Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by less than a minute, though he is aware, too, that he will have to go on the offensive if he is to succeed.
"The third week will be decisive and we'll be obliged to show ourselves. Everyone is going to try to go on the attack," he said. "I hope I haven't used up all my venom. I hope you’ll be hearing about me in the third week."
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