Cycling - Bardet's podium finish confirms French resurgence
By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Romain Bardet's second place in the Tour de France on Sunday, becoming the third Frenchman to get on the podium in three years, augurs well for the future of French cycling.
Jean-Christophe Peraud's second place and Thibaut Pinot's third in 2014 had ended France's wait for a first podium finish since Richard Virenque was runner-up in 1997.
Their success could be regarded as circumstantial after favourites Chris Froome and Alberto Contador crashed out of the race and Nairo Quintana skipped the event.
But this year, although Contador abandoned, Froome was there and clinched his third title while Quintana was also in the race but could not match Bardet, who finished 4:05 off the pace, and had to settle for third place.
Nor could Richie Porte, Adam Yates or Vuelta champion Fabio Aru in the most competitive line-up of recent years, even if France overall did not enjoy a great Tour.
Pinot pulled out because of a virus after starting as one of the main contenders, Pierre Rolland dropped out of contention after hitting a wall on a descent and only Bardet won a stage, the 19th on Friday after a gutsy ride.
Warren Barguil was the most disappointing, failing to keep up with the best in the mountains after being tipped as at least a potential top 10 finisher.
"My performance might not reveal what this Tour has been for France, but there will be better editions," the 25-year-old Bardet told a news conference.
"There are nice prospects, new generations are emerging and performances like mine trigger other great performances."
Another young Frenchman, debutant Julian Alaphilippe, showed his talent with attacks on every stage and wore the white jersey for the best under-25 rider in the first week.
Alaphilippe's aggressive style and punch in hard finales suggests he will be a top contender for stage wins, if not better, in future Tours.
"He has what it takes to soon be in the top 10 at least... he's got a lot of time ahead of him," said Virenque.
The Tour may not have been as good as 2014 for home riders, but the resurgence is no fluke since Bardet is only the seventh Frenchman on the podium since Bernard Hinault, the last French winner back in 1985, came second in 1986.
"I think quite soon we will be contenders in the sprints and for the general classification," said Bardet.
France, in the absence of the injured Nacer Bouhanni, came close to a sprint win in the first week when Bryan Coquard took second place behind German Marcel Kittel in a photo finish in Cherbourg.
(Editing by Rex Gowar)