Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) recorded his first Tour de France victory on stage 18, striking out from the breakaway and embarking on a daredevil descent before winning in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
The 24-year-old, who finished sixth overall in 2014, is one of French cycling’s great young hopes and attacked short of the summit of the hors categorie Col du Glandon, holding his lead on the descent, up the final climb of the Lacets de Montvernier and to the finish.
Bardet, who has already secured two stage podiums in this year’s Tour, also rises into the top ten overall. At the top of the GC, things remained all square as the race favourites, including maillot jaune Chris Froome and Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas, rolled in together, just over three minutes behind Bardet.
The 186.5km stage from Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne contained no less than seven categorised climbs, including the hors categorie Col du Glandon, and the road rose from the off with the category two Col Bayard. It was there that Pierre Rolland (Europcar) instigated the day’s breakaway, which was eventually made up of 29 riders, including a host of high-profile names: Bardet, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), and Cannondale-Garmin trio Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin.
Rodriguez was on the hunt of King of the Mountains points and went over the first five climbs first, ahead of the Col du Glandon. Four kilometres from the summit of the 21.7km climb, Rolland accelerated, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Bardet followed. Fuglsang was inadvertently taken out by a motorbike, ending his chances of the stage win, while Bardet left Rolland and forged a lone path over the summit, with Winner Anacona (Movistar) the closest pursuer.
Bardet announced himself as a fearless descender at the Criterium du Dauphine, when he bombed down the Col d’Allos and climbed to victory to Pra Loup, a replica of the finish of stage 17 of the Tour, and those skills came to the fore once again, with the Frenchman flowing those the Glandon’s lightning fast corners with poise and grace.
Bardet reached the Maurienne valley with a 40-second advantage and forged on to the final climb, the Lacets de Montvernier, featuring in the Tour for the first time and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful roads of the Alps, with 18 hairpins packed into 3.4km. Bardet felled the climb and descended to the valley once again to take a popular victory in front of a home crowd, with Rolland 33 seconds back and Anacona completing the day’s podium.
Meanwhile, Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) led home the group containing Froome and Thomas, who both remaining perfectly positioned in first and fourth overall respectively ahead of the final two days in the Alps, with the summit finishes of La Toussuire and Alpe d’Huez to come on Friday and Saturday.
Tour de France 2015: stage 18 – review
1) Romain Bardet (FRA)- AG2R La Mondiale – 5:03:40hrs
2) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Europcar +33″
3) Winner Anacona (COL) – Movistar +59″
4) Bob Jungels (LUX) – Trek Factory Racing – same time
5) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana
6) Serge Pauwels (BEL) – MTN-Qhubeka +1:01
7) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Europcar +1:50
8) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – BMC Racing – same time
9) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Cannondale-Garmin +1:55
10) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Alpecin +3:02
1) Chris Froome (GBR – Team Sky +3:10
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar + 4:09
4) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +6:34
5) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Tinkoff-Saxo 0:06:40
6) Robert Gesink (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +7:39
7) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +8:04
8) Mathias Frank (SWI) – IAM Cycling +8:47
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Trek Factory Racing +12:06
10) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +13:02