FRENCHMAN Romain Bardet timed his final effort perfectly to win the 12th stage of the Tour de France — a 214.5km stage from Pau to Peyragudes in the Pyrenees — yesterday, setting up a thrilling second half of the three-week race as defending champion Chris Froome showed a rare sign of weakness.
Italian Fabio Aru claimed the overall leader’s yellow jersey as previous leader Froome could not sustain the pace in the final few hundred meters up a steep climb to the finish line.
Astana rider Aru attacked in the final part of the climb to Peyragudes, a 2.4-km ascent at a punishing average gradient of 8.4 percent. But Bardet had more left in the tank and powered away in the last 200 meters to beat Colombian Rigoberto Uran by two seconds.
Aru came third, also two seconds behind Bardet, while Froome cracked and ended up 22 seconds adrift of the Frenchman. Overall, Aru leads Froome by six seconds and Bardet by 25.
“It’s a great joy. I had good legs but I was patient,” said AG2R-La Mondiale rider Bardet. “The team has never been so strong, we are a real factor in the race. Now we have to do our best in the final part.”
Froome and Aru went off the road briefly in the descent from the Port de Bales, the penultimate climb of the day, but the group of overall contenders waited on them.
They caught the last survivor of the day’s breakaway, Briton Stephen Cummings, 8.5km from the finish, in the final slopes of the Col de Peyresourde.
Nairo Quintana had already been dropped, as the Colombian struggles to recover from an energy-sapping Giro d’Italia.
He and two-time champion Alberto Contador, who was dropped in the finale, saw their hopes of winning the race all but vanish.
For the second time after Aru prevailed at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles last week, Froome was beaten in a summit finish. “I didn’t have the legs. It’s a nice victory for Romain Bardet, and hats off to Fabio Aru for taking the yellow jersey,” said Froome.
Today’s 13th stage is a relatively short 101km trek through the Pyrenees.