Bardet, Bar­guil could end the drought

32 years since Tour de France had a home win­ner

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SA­MUEL PE­TRE­QUIN

PARIS — Maybe the drought will be over soon for French rid­ers at the Tour de France.

It is 32 years since the Tour had a home win­ner, when Bernard Hin­ault won the last of his five ti­tles back in 1985.

He didn’t know it then but Hin­ault’s fifth crown brought an end to a glo­ri­ous era in French cy­cling, a pe­riod when the home na­tion won nine Tour ti­tles out of 11.

A long and painful drought fol­lowed, but a pair of rid­ers has emerged to rekin­dle French hopes.

Fan favourite Ro­main Bardet em­bod­ies the re­vival of French cy­cling and se­cured a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive podium fin­ish at the Tour on Sun­day, claim­ing third place, 2 min­utes and 20 sec­onds be­hind four-time cham­pion Chris Froome.

A year af­ter fin­ish­ing run­ner-up to Froome, Bardet was again praised for his bold at­tacks in the 2017 race. A strong climber with a nat­u­ral in­stinct for rac­ing, Bardet rode more con­sis­tently but cracked in the fi­nal time trial in Marseille.

He still sal­vaged his podium fin­ish by one sec­ond, hold­ing off Froome’s team­mate Mikel Landa.

It wasn’t much more than a con­so­la­tion for the 26-year-old Bardet, but he showed he is now Froome’s match in the high moun­tains and dis­played a fight­ing spirit in the fi­nal few hun­dred me­ters of the time trial at the Stade Velo­drome.

“I’m pretty ex­cited about the fu­ture,” Bardet said.

Froome, who is six years older than Bardet, still has the up­per hand in time tri­als, but has lost the abil­ity to drop ri­vals with ease at al­ti­tude, like he did in 2013 and 2015.

Bardet was quicker than Froome in moun­tain stages this year and dropped him in the steep climb to Peyragudes in the Pyre­nees. He needs to hone his skills in the race against the clock, a dis­ci­pline he ne­glected, if he is to com­pete for the ti­tle.

“I can im­prove a bit, es­pe­cially in the time trial,” Bardet said. “I made a choice not to fo­cus on the time trial be­cause it’s not the way I like to ride. Go­ing out to train on my time trial bike is a lit­tle bit bor­ing for me. I paid a high price ... but I’m still only 26. I want to fight in the next few years for the win.”

Bardet will also have some help in his bid to de­throne Froome, with his AG2R La Mon­di­ale team emerg­ing as the sec­ond strong­est be­hind Froome’s Sky.

In the Mas­sif Cen­tral and in the Alps, Bardet’s team­mates took their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously as they tried to un­set­tle Froome. They al­most suc­ceeded on the road to the Puy-en-Ve­lay when they set a high tempo that split the pelo­ton. Froome, who also had a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem with his bike that day, scram­bled to bridge the gap.

In the alpine stage lead­ing to the sum­mit of the Izoard pass, AG2R rid­ers again rode at the front, set­ting Bardet up to at­tack Froome on the last big climb of this Tour.

Another French­man to watch is 25year-old Warren Bar­guil, a rider with a fiery char­ac­ter and lots of po­ten­tial.

Bar­guil, who won the best climber’s polka-dot jersey, sent a strong mes­sage with a pres­ti­gious win at the top of the Izoard. On a bru­tal day of rac­ing at an al­ti­tude of 2,360 me­tres, Bar­guil won his sec­ond stage of the tour af­ter he at­tacked with six kilo­me­tres left to climb.

The feat was even more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing he frac­tured his pelvis in a crash in April, and broke his wrist last year when he was hit by a car on a train­ing ride.

Bar­guil, who rides for Team Sun­web but has re­port­edly been ap­proached by Sky and As­tana, also won Stage 13 on Bastille Day.

“He is very strong, and still young,” Froome said. “We will see him more of­ten in the fu­ture.”

PETER DEJONG, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Warren Bar­guil, left, and Ro­main Bardet are France’s best hopes to end a 32-year drought at the Tour de France in 2018.

CHRISTOPHE ENA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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