By Julien Pretot
BERGERAC, France (Reuters) – Romain Bardet’s attack on the treacherous descent of the Mont du Chat and his team’s bold strategy during the ninth stage of the Tour de France were lauded by three-times champion Greg LeMond on Monday.
Frenchman Bardet, runner-up last year, had his AG2R-La Mondiale team pile on the pressure in the descent from the Col de la Biche – one of three out-of-category climbs – which led Chris Froome’s lieutenant Geraint Thomas to crash and break his right collarbone.
AG2R-La Mondiale, who are based in the Chambery area where the stage was held, used their knowledge of the terrain to blow the race wide open.
Bardet, known for his aggressive style, went on the attack on the last descent, distancing race leader Froome and other rivals.
He was only caught two kilometres from the finish after a bold solo ride in the final flat part of the stage won by Colombian Rigoberto Uran.
“I loved it, they took risks, AG2R were really aggressive,” LeMond, who is on the Tour as an analyst for Eurosport, said in a daily chat with Reuters.
“I love seeing a team strategy that’s really ripping things apart. It’s part of the strategy to string things out.
“What Bardet did was grand style.”
Bardet sits third overall, 51 seconds behind Froome of Team Sky and 33 seconds adrift of Italian Fabio Aru (Astana).
“There will be other battles to fight in the Pyrenees and in the Alps,” the Frenchman warned.
LeMond believes that although Froome remains the overwhelming favorite to add to his 2013, 2015 and 2016 titles, three riders are still in the mix to unsettle the Briton.
“The real players are Froome, Aru, Bardet and Uran, who is going to do better than people think. He’s the dark horse,” said the American, who won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
Uran is fourth overall, 55 seconds off the pace, and his Cannondale-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters refers to him as “Voldemort, the guy whose name can’t be mentioned.”
Monday is a rest day on the Tour, which resumes with a flat 10th stage between Perigueux and Bergerac on Tuesday before the big guns battle it out again in the Pyrenees on Thursday.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)