French will fight for Tour for years to come - Bardet

Romain Bardet (Getty Images)
Romain Bardet (Getty Images)

Col d'Izoard - Romain Bardet believes French cycling is in a strong place and has several young riders who can challenge for Tour de France glory for years to come.

Bardet took third place on the epic 18th stage of the Tour on Thursday as his compatriot Warren Barguil won his second stage of the race on the brutal Col d'Izoard.

Barguil moved up a place to ninth overall and secured victory in the king of the mountains competition, while Bardet leapfrogged Colombia's Rigoberto Uran into second overall behind reigning champion Chris Froome.

With Thibaut Pinot having finished third on the Tour in 2014 and fourth in May's Giro d'Italia, French cycling is in a great place on the Grand Tour scene, and a first victory in the Grand Boucle since Bernard Hinault in 1985 is getting closer.

"In the next few years there will be several Frenchmen fighting to win the Tour de France, and that's good," said Bardet.

The 27-year-old gave his all on the Col d'Izoard, with his AG2R team driving the pace to the foot of the climb and on the early slopes.

Bardet himself went on the attack with 3km left but he couldn't shake Froome and Uran.

"I thought I was going to suffocate when I crossed the line, it was hugely mental," said an exhausted Bardet.

"I think we stamped our mark on the race, we rode like a big team.

"I gave absolutely everything, I knew the climb well, I knew at 2,000 metres, when I was going to put in my effort, that it would hurt.

"The ideal scenario would have been catching Warren (Barguil) but I'm delighted for him.

"In any case, well done to my team, they sent me into orbit -- I can assure you that everyone was at their limit when they pulled over."

Bardet also said he'd tried paying mind games with Froome to gain an advantage.

"Everyone was waiting for me to attack but I played it tactically, I made Froome think I wasn't feeling great," he said, noting that with a time-trial to come, Tour victory is not yet beyond his reach.

"Then I gave my all at 500-metres to go. Nothing is yet decided, there's still the time-trial but I think the Tour is already a success, I showed up in the mountains.

"We've again taken a step forward and that's good for the future."

Having also won a stage on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, Barguil said he will come back next year to fight for the overall victory.

The 25-year-old had said before the Tour began that he hoped to lose time in the first week so he wouldn't be considered a threat by the other contenders, allowing him to go after stage victories and the polkadot jersey.

It worked perfectly, although his strong finish to the Tour has seen him climb up to ninth.

"With the legs I've got now, if I come back next year with the same legs, the GC is possible," he said.

"I've still got a lot of progress to make but the top five is something I've always said was an aim.

"But for now, I'm going to savour this moment and we'll see for next year."

Savour it he did as he crossed the line, pointing to the skies in remembrance deceased family members.

"It was for my grandparents, who are dead," he said. "My two grandads followed cycling a lot, one taught me a lot too.

"I already did it (pointing to the skies) at the Vuelta (a Espana, when he won two stages in 2013).

"It was an emotional moment for me because I think about them a lot, and that's what I was dong on the line."

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