ARRAS, France (Reuters) - With Thibaut Pinot having dropped out of contention, local hopes of celebrating a first home Tour de France champion in 30 years now lie on the shoulders of Romain Bardet and Warren Barguil.
Pinot, third overall last year, was tipped as a potential podium finisher but he lost considerable time in the opening block of racing.
The FDJ rider will now target a prestigious stage win in the mountains while Bardet, sixth last year, is still hoping to end up in the top five.
“We struggled in the opening time trial but yesterday (in the fourth stage featuring cobbled sectors) was good for his confidence,” Bardet’s AG2r-La Mondiale team manager Vincent Lavenu told Reuters before the fifth stage started on Wednesday.
“Our initial goal of having a rider in the top five and two in the top 10 is still valid.” The AG2r-La Mondiale squad also boasts Jean-Christophe Peraud, second overall last year, who has not been in impressive form in the build-up to the Tour but is still in the hunt.
Bardet is 21st overall, three minutes and six seconds behind yellow jersey holder Tony Martin, while Peraud is 19th, 2:19 off the pace.
“Our immediate strategy is too stay out of trouble (until the rest day),” said Lavenu. “In the mountains, we’ll see after the first stage at La Pierre St Martin -- a first mountain stage is always tricky. But Romain is in top shape and he should not be too far from (Chris) Froome, (Alberto) Contador, (Nairo) Quintana.”
The best placed, however, is Barguil, who lies in 11th position, 1:19 off the pace. The Giant-Alpecin rider says he is still only targeting a stage win for now on his Tour debut depsite an impressive start. “I take it day by day and that’s my strength, I‘m not stressed out,” said Barguil, who avoided all the pitfalls of the first four days. “You can lose time today, tomorrow (because of possible bunch-splitting winds). I said I’d see where I stand after the team time trial (on Sunday).”
The team time trial will be followed by the first rest days and the Tour will then enter the mountains, a favorable terrain for Barguil, who won two Vuelta stages in 2013 and finished the Spanish race in eighth position overall last year. “I‘m enjoying it, it’s cool, I‘m here to discover the Tour de France and enjoy it,” said the 23-year-old.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris