Le Puy-en-Velay - Romain Bardet insisted he was happy with
his team despite missing an opportunity to put Tour de France leader Chris Froome
in serious difficulty on Sunday.
Froome had a mechanical problem 50km from the end of the
15th stage just as Bardet's AG2R team was pushing the pace on the front.
The problem had initially seen Froome distanced before he
finally had to stop to change a wheel, taking one from team-mate Michal
Kwiatkowski before continuing.
At that point he was 50 seconds behind his main rivals for
But while Froome's Sky team-mates dropped back to help pace
him up to the group ahead, Bardet's team failed to set a high enough pace to
distance the Briton once and for all.
"We knew that after the climb it wasn't ideal for big
attacks, so we had to really dig deep on the climb," said the Frenchman,
who is third at 23sec.
"The team really worked hard and we can be proud of
what we did.
"I'm doing my best, it's really tough, it's the biggest
race in the world.
"You have to stay humble before the event and I'm just
trying to do my best and we'll see where that takes me in a week's time."
For many observers, though, it seemed to be an opportunity
missed for Froome's main rivals, who could have worked together on the climb to
prevent him regaining contact, something he himself feared.
"If I didn't get back, I wouldn't expect to be in
yellow this evening," admitted Froome.
"I knew if I didn't get back to the group before the
top of the climb, we could be looking at some pretty big losses -- so it was
Bardet was one of the riders to put in a dig once Froome had
rejoined the leaders 30km from the finish but that was without really
Asked why his rivals didn't capitalise on his misfortune,
Froome said he felt they were more interested in getting rid of Nairo Quintana,
who cracked on the climb and went on to lose almost four minutes.
"There was a lot happening in that front group, of
course Nairo Quintana had been dropped. A lot of people in that group were
happy to try to distance him," said Froome.
"Certainly in the final, once we hit the category 4
climb with 14km to go, Romain Bardet tried, Rigoberto (Uran) tried over the top
- I wouldn't say the GC guys didn't try today.
"They certainly did, also Romain Bardet on the main
climb tried over the top, but with the climb being so far from the finish, I
think everyone was hesitant to make such a big effort knowing there was a lot
of road to cover."
In the end, Quintana dropped from eighth at 2:22 to 11th at
6:16 and is now definitively out of the race.
"The head is what guides you but if the body doesn't
respond, it doesn't respond," said the dejected Colombian.
"When you feel tired you try to overcome it,"
added the 27-year-old Movistar leader.
"We'll keep fighting and keep going forward, always
without giving up."