Bardet is back: Is the Frenchman on his way to another Tour podium?

Romain Bardet (DSM) apparently came to the Tour de France without ambitions for the general classification. For him and his DSM teammates, the 2022 edition of the world’s biggest bike race was all about stage wins.

But after Wednesday’s electrifying Stage 11 in the Alps, that plan may well have changed.

On a day when Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) forcibly ejected Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) from the top of the general classification, Bardet took an impressive third place on the stage, climbing to second place overall. It has been five years since he was so well placed on his home Grand Tour.

Bardet on his way to third place in stage 11 of the Tour. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The scene didn’t seem to go Bardet’s way. When a group of GC favorites cleared atop the Col du Télégraphe – one of many moves forced by Vingaard team-mate Primož Roglič – Bardet was left behind. It took a concerted chase from Bardet’s Aussie teammate Chris Hamilton to bring Bardet back in touch with the GC’s best men on the following Col du Galibier climb.

By the time the race reached the final kilometers of the final climb – the Col du Granon – a quietly impressive Bardet had fought his way to his place among the big favorites in the general classification. There was only him, Vingaard, Pogačar, Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates), Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates (both Ineos Grenadiers) in this group with 7 km to go.

It was around then that Bardet made his move, pounding on the steep sections of the final climb in search of more time. From behind, Vingaard launched one of the most memorable attacks in recent Tour history, dropping Pogačar in incredible fashion. When Vingaard passed Bardet, the Frenchman continued, at his own pace.

As Pogačar fell further back, losing the yellow jersey in the process, Bardet held on, eventually crossing the line in third place, 1:10 behind stage winner Vingaard and 11 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic), who had also jumped. clearly from the group of GC favorites on the final climb.

“It was a really tough day and as expected it was the first big day for the GC,” Bardet said after the finish. “We didn’t expect it to be so hard at the Col de Télégraphe, but I was always with Chris [Hamilton] and he did a really good job getting me back to the front. It was then a matter of legs and I’m quite happy with the day.

Bardet went far in stage 11 of the Tour. Will he pay for his efforts? Or is this the start of his push towards the podium? (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

With Bardet now second overall, the race is at a fascinating time for him and his team. He has already finished on the Tour podium twice – second in 2016 and third in 2017 – and a third such looks well within reach. He is now 2:16 behind new leader General Vingaard and six seconds ahead of Pogačar.

Surely now Bardet’s placement in the GC becomes DSM’s main focus, even if Bardet himself doesn’t say so publicly.

“Tomorrow is another big battle in the Alps and then we will see how things go,” he said. “I have a lot of fans on the side of the road, but we’re only halfway there.”

The way Bardet climbs, he should be confident heading into the mountainous stages that still remain in this year’s Tour, including the July 14 epic at Alpe d’Huez on Thursday. The biggest obstacle between him and the podium in Paris may well be the 40km individual time trial of the penultimate stage of the race. Time trials haven’t traditionally been the 31-year-old’s forte.

Regardless of how Bardet’s Tour ends, there’s a lot to love about his return to the pinnacle of the sport. After appearing to stagnate somewhat in his final seasons with AG2R, Bardet’s move to DSM in 2021 breathed new life into his career.

He finished seventh in the Giro d’Italia last year, won a stage in the Vuelta a España last year and was a promising fourth at this year’s Giro when illness forced him to retire. That he finds himself so well placed halfway through the Tour is an exciting prospect not only for him and his team, but for the race as a whole.

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