Romain Bardet claims Stage 18 win for France

Romain Bardet gave France a second win in this year’s Tour de France as he showed his impressive descending skills to clinch the 18th stage on Thursday.

Romain Bardet of France celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 161 kilometres with start in Digne-les-Bains and finish in Pra Loup, France, Thursday, July 23, 2015. Peter Dejong / AP Photo
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SainT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France // Romain Bardet gave France a second win in this year’s Tour de France as he showed his impressive descending skills to clinch the 18th stage on Thursday.

The AG2R-La Mondiale rider, who was sixth overall in the Tour last year, timed his attack perfectly near the end of the long ascent to the Col du Glandon before powering away from a breakaway group on the descent.

Bardet, 24, never looked back and crossed the line 33 seconds ahead of his compatriot Pierre Rolland of the Europcar team, almost two weeks after Bardet’s teammate Alexis Vuillermoz won the eighth stage.

Colombian Winner Anacona of Movistar took third place, finishing 59 seconds behind, as Chris Froome comfortably retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey when he finished safely with the other top riders, 3:02 off the pace.

“What a crazy stage. It was difficult to get in the breakaway. I knew that with a late attack in the Glandon I could then take time on the others thanks to my descending skills,” said Bardet, who dropped out of contention for a podium finish in Paris after suffering through a bad day in the Pyrenees.

“I can’t believe it. It’s so hard to win a stage.”

A 29-man breakaway took shape early on and the group, featuring Bardet and fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot as well as polka-dot jersey wearer Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain, built a five-minute lead over the pack.

That group had been whittled down to less than a dozen riders midway through the ascent of the Col du Glandon, a 21.7-kilometre climb at an average gradient of 5.1 per cent, after Pinot and others had dropped back.

Farther behind in the yellow jersey group, Frenchman Warren Barguil attacked and was joined by Swiss Matthias Frank and Dutchman Robert Gesink.

They were caught by Alberto Contador, the only top rider who dared to attack Froome, and the four moved about 45 seconds clear of the yellow jersey group, who easily reined them in before the top of the Glandon.

Contador upped the pace again in the Lacets de Montvernier, a short but steep, serpentine climb near the finish, but Froome was never seriously threatened.

“Everyone attacked today. The Glandon is a tough climb, it’s very long and the legs are stinging,” Froome said.

The Team Sky rider still leads Movistar duo Nairo Quintana of Colombia by 3:10 and Alejandro Valverde of Spain by 4:09.

“Perfect. It’s ideal, really,” Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas said. “The team was strong, we didn’t panic when guys were attacking.

“We didn’t have to react to Contador when he went. We followed over the top. The last climb was tough with those hairpins. Morale is good and everyone is up for it. We can see the finish.”

Friday’s 19th stage, which presents a gruelling 138km ride from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire, will be the penultimate chance for Froome’s rivals to prevent him bringing a second Tour title back home to Britain.

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