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Bardet holds hope of a nation at Tour de France

MARSEILLE

There is hope! Frenchman Romain Bardet will tackle a 22.5km time-trial around Marseille on Saturday with the aspirations of an entire country on his shoulders.

The 27-year-old trails reigning champion Chris Froome by just 23 seconds in the penultimate stage of the Tour de France with a race against the clock the only thing separating him from greatness.

And while for many the dice have been rolled as Froome is usually a far superior time-trialist to Bardet, there is one glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Two years ago, at the Tour of Romandy, Bardet beat Froome in a time-trial.

It was a different time, a different situation, a different course, but it’s happened before and that has given the locals reason to believe.

Bardet said following Friday’s 19th stage that all he was thinking about was “riding the 22 kilometres as fast as possible” and then doing the sums later.

“There’s nothing to think about. You just have to give it everything and not ask any questions,” said the AG2R rider.

Two years ago on a 17.3km course with two climbs, Bardet beat Froome by 10 seconds in a time-trial — this one is 5km longer but has only one climb, and one that suits Froome.

The 32-year-old Briton was also not at his best in that Tour of Romandy, although he went on to win the Criterium du Dauphine and then the Tour later in the year.

This time, he’s looking strong and believes himself to be “getting better and better” at this Tour after an unimpressive first six months to the season.

The setting could not be any more picturesque in Marseille with a course that traces the Old Port, the Corniche and even goes past the Notre Damme de la Garde Basilica at the top of the climb.

Froome is understandably confident and said on Friday it was his race to lose.

“I have to treat it like any other time-trial that I’ve done before,” he said.

“I have to do everything right. I’m not going to go out there and take any big risks.”

But what makes it even more intriguing is the third factor in the race, Colombian Rigoberto Uran.

He’s 29sec behind Froome but has good form in time-trials as a former national champion and winner of a stage at the Giro d’Italia in the discipline.

He, more so than Bardet perhaps, could challenge Froome.

And he couldn’t be any more motivated.

“Tomorrow is the most important day of my career!” he exclaimed after Friday’s stage.

By the end of Saturday’s stage, we will know who is going to win the 2017 Tour de France.

Matthews won the 14th and 16th stages.

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