FRENCH FIGHT FOR PODIUM
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Young French star Romain Bardet said he was fed up with media focussing on his battle with compatriot Thibaut Pinot as the pair made new gains at the Tour de France on Saturday.
Vincenzo Nibali may be riding off to a glorious victory but the battle behind him for a place on the podium is becoming ever more intense.
Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde still sits second overall but he suffered on the final first category climb to Risoul and lost at least 30sec to all his rivals.
Bardet, 23, and Pinot, 24, were the main beneficiaries as they now sit just 13sec and 29sec respectively behind Valverde in third and fourth. But Bardet reacted with annoyance when asked once again about his battle with Pinot, as local media become intoxicated with the potential shown by those two, who sit first and second in the young rider competition.
“It’s not just about me and Pinot, it’s about me and the other big contenders,” said the AG2R rider.
“I’m pretty happy because I could take time out of Valverde, and (teammate Jean-Christophe) Peraud was very strong so it was a very good day for us (AG2R).”
He added: “It’s a bit annoying that everyone is focussing on Pinot and me, but there’s Valverde and (Tejay) Van Garderen. I’m lucky because I have Jean-Christophe but there are three big Pyrenean stages to come so we’ll see how that goes. But for the first time today I could really enjoy myself going on the attack.”
Peraud is gaining very little attention compared to his younger compatriots but the 37-year-old finished third on the stage and gained 24sec on Bardet and Pinot.
He is sixth overall and just 1min 31sec behind Valverde in what is turning out to be an exciting five-way battle for the two podium spots behind Nibali.
“Nibali is the strongest but there’s nothing in it between the rest of us,” said Valverde.
The other element in the battle is Van Garderen, the American BMC leader who is fifth overall. The 25-year-old lost some time a week ago in a crash and has been trying to recover from that.
“I’m looking forward to the rest day, I don’t know what else to say. It was hard in the final,” he said.
“I feel like I’m not too responsive, I don’t have the same kick that guys like Pinot have.
“I think that’s partially due to the crashes but I think I should be OK in the Pyrenees.”
Van Garderen also knows that, on paper at least, he is a better TT riders than all five guys around him. After three stages in the Pyrenees, the penultimate stage is a 54km race against the clock.
He said: “Bardet kind of has the advantage of having another teammate on GC (general classification) so if he (Peraud) gets up the road, he (Bardet) can sit on and they can play with each other like that a little bit. “But my trump card is definitely going to be that time trial. If I can just stay close enough to them, I’m pretty confident I can move ahead. I would say if I’m within a minute of them then I have a chance.”
Pinot admitted he had struggled on Saturday, particularly on the fast descent between the last two climbs. But he said the battle for second was providing a show for the fans.
“I had trouble on the descent but the important thing was I was with the first group,” he said.
“It was essential to not lose time. But I’ve got through my worst day on the Tour. On the climbs I was conserving energy. From the Lautaret (the first climb of three) I had heavy legs from yesterday. But in the end I’m happy. It’s good for the spectacle that behind Nibali the level is very similar.”