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Romain Bardet (DSM) apparently came to the Tour de France without ambitions for the general classification. For he and his DSM teammates, the 2022 edition of the world’s biggest bike race was all about stage wins.
But after Wednesday’s electrifying stage 11 in the Alps, that plan may well have changed.
On a day where Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) forcibly ejected Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) from the top of the GC, Bardet rode to an impressive third place on the stage, moving himself up to second overall. It’s been five years since he was so well-placed at his home Grand Tour.
The stage didn’t look to be going Bardet’s way. When a group of the GC favourites went clear over the top of the Col du Télégraphe – one of several moves forced by Vingegaard’s teammate Primož Roglič – Bardet was distanced. It took a concerted chase from Bardet’s Australian teammate Chris Hamilton to bring Bardet back in contact with the top GC men on the subsequent climb of the Col du Galibier.
By the time the race reached the closing kilometres on the final climb – the Col du Granon – a quietly impressive Bardet had battled through to earn his place with the big overall favourites. It was just he, Vingegaard, Pogačar, Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates), Geraint Thomas, and Adam Yates (both Ineos Grenadiers) in that group with 7 km to go.
It was around then that Bardet made his move, punching away on the steep slopes of the final climb in search of more time. Behind, Vingegaard put in one of the most memorable attacks in recent Tour history, dropping Pogačar in incredible fashion. When Vingegaard sailed past Bardet, the Frenchman carried on, riding his own rhythm.
As Pogačar drifted further back, losing the yellow jersey in the process, Bardet held firm, eventually crossing the line in third place, 1:10 behind stage winner Vingegaard, and 11 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic), who’d also surged clear from the group of GC favourites on the final climb.
“It was a really hard day and as expected it was the first big GC day,” Bardet said after the finish. “We didn’t expect it would go that hard on the Col de Télégraphe, but I was still with Chris [Hamilton] and he did a super good job bringing me back to the front. It was then all about the legs and I’m quite happy with the day.”
With Bardet now sitting second overall, the race is at a fascinating juncture for he and his team. He’s finished on the podium at the Tour twice before – second in 2016 and third in 2017 – and a third such finish seems well within his grasp. He’s now 2:16 behind new overall leader Vingegaard and six seconds ahead of Pogačar.
Surely now Bardet’s GC placing becomes the primary focus for DSM, even if Bardet himself isn’t saying as much publicly.
“Tomorrow is another big battle in the Alps and then we’ll see how things look after that,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of fans on the roadside, but we’re only halfway through.”
The way Bardet is climbing, he should be confident ahead of the mountainous stages that still remain in this year’s Tour, including Thursday’s Bastille Day epic to Alpe d’Huez. The biggest hurdle between him and the podium in Paris might well be the 40 km individual time trial on the race’s penultimate stage. Time trials haven’t traditionally been the 31-year-old’s strong suit.
Regardless of how Bardet’s Tour ends up, there’s plenty to like about his return to the top of the sport. After seeming to stagnate somewhat in his final seasons with AG2R, Bardet’s transfer to DSM in 2021 has breathed new life into his career.
He was seventh at last year’s Giro d’Italia, won a stage of last year’s Vuelta a España, and was in a promising fourth place at this year’s Giro when illness forced him from the race. That he finds himself so well placed midway through the Tour is an exciting prospect not just for him and his team, but for the race overall.