Even before Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) loosened his grip on the back of the yellow jersey group on the Col du Portet, the arid truth of his Tour de France had already been laid bare. He would not win the race, nor would he match his podium finishes of the past two seasons.
13 kilometres from the summit of the Tour’s most demanding climb, Bardet’s face was drawn, his eyes glazed. It was not a question of whether he would be dropped, but when. Tenacious to a fault, the Frenchman clung on by his fingernails until the thread snapped in the final six kilometres and his race unspooled.
The finish line of the Tour’s final summit finish was shrouded in low cloud, as it had been at Saint-Gervais in 2016. On that occasion, Bardet arrived as the solo stage winner. On the Col du Portet, his was a rather more lonesome kind of solitude, as he crossed the line 13th on the stage, 2:35 behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The performance saw Bardet drop from fifth to eighth in the overall standings, leaving him 5:13 behind yellow jersey Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and more than two and a half minutes shy of a podium berth.
“It was a terrible day,” Bardet said forlornly after the finish, wiping his face as he spoke. “I struggled terribly on the last climb, my legs simply weren’t responding. It’s very unfortunate, but that’s the law of sport and you have to accept it. It’s hard, I gave the maximum again today, but it was simply a défaillance. It’s the law of sport, you have to accept it.”
Stage 17 was the shortest road stage of the 2018 Tour, but with three mountain passes crammed into just 65km of racing, it was arguably the toughest. The severity of the final, hors categorie climb meant that the podium contenders held their fire on the opening two ascents, though Bardet did seem to signal his intentions by setting his AG2R La Mondiale team to work on the Col de Val Louron-Azet. Come the lower slopes of the Col du Portet, however, it was clear that something was awry.
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