by Barnaby CHESTERMAN
BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France, July 22, 2014 (AFP) – Thibaut Pinot struck the
first significant blow to his best young rider rival Romain Bardet as the Tour
de France reached the Pyrenees on Tuesday.
Bardet had started the day in third place in the overall standings and
wearing the white jersey of the Tour’s best young rider.
But by the end of the longest stage of the race — an epic 237.5km trek
from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon — Pinot had stripped him of both those
Tour de France 2014 – Etape 16 – Thibaut Pinot : “J’ai fait une bonne opération et ce n’est pas fini” by Cyclismactu
Bardet, 23, had cracked under the pressure exerted on the final hors
category Port de Bales climb as first Movistar and then Pinot’s FDJ team
pushed up the pace.
Asked which objective was more important to him, a podium finish or the
white jersey, Pinot was unequivocal.
“The most important thing is the podium, that’s a really big thing but I’m
sure that if I stay on the podium then there’s a great chance the white jersey
will stay on my shoulders,” said the 24-year-old.
Bardet lost 1min 50sec to Pinot — as well as Alejandro Valverde in second
and Jean-Christophe Peraud, his AG2R teammate, now up to fourth — but he
sounded determined to make amends.
“It’s hard to take on board mentally when you were thinking more about
going on the attack,” said Bardet.
– better legs –
“Today I lost a battle but there are still two great (Pyrenean) stages to
“Maybe tomorrow (Wednesday) I’ll have more freedom on a stage that suits me
a lot. I hope to have better legs than today.”
AG2R have Peraud in fourth at 1:02 behind Pinot while Bardet is now at 1:34
of his rival.
But the fact they are teammates could help them as Pinot will have to
defend attacks from both.
“I think Jean-Christophe can go after the podium this year. We’ll discuss
it with the coaches,” said Bardet.
Certainly Pinot sees Peraud now as more of a rival, along with American
Tejay Van Garderen, despite the latter losing 3:36 to now sit 4:19 behind
Pinot in sixth.
Both are better timetriallists than Pinot, who still feels he needs to gain
more time on them before Saturday’s 54km race against the clock.
“I need to gain more time. I put time into Romain and Van Garderen but I
need to get more time on Peraud,” he said.
Wednesday’s 17th stage is more than 100km shorter than Tuesday’s but
includes three first category climbs before the hors category finish to
Pinot has looked the most explosive climber apart from race leader Vincenzo
Nibali in the high mountains and he’s planning to attack on Wednesday.
“The plan will be to follow Valverde and maybe Nibali until the last climb
and then try to drop them. It’s a very difficult finish tomorrow,” he said.
But he also expects those behind him to make their moves.
“It will be a very short and nervous stage and I expect my rivals to attack
me,” he added.
Although a lot of attention in France has been directed at the battle
between the youngsters Pinot and Bardet, a third Frenchman is in a great place
to finish on the podium.
Peraud is 37 and has shown his experience in conserving his efforts and
following those in front of him without ever attacking himself.
He dropped a bit behind Pinot before cresting the Bales summit but knew he
had 20km of descent to go in which to catch him.
“Thibaut climbed really well whereas I measured my effort,” he said.
“On the descent, I waited for Valverde and the two of us calmly caught up
with them (Pinot and Nibali).
“We (AG2R) had two cards to play but it wasn’t the plan to sacrifice one.
“I was happy to follow and hope that Romain would come back. I’m a little
disappointed for him.”