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Romain Bardet and Remco Evenepoel at the finish of stage 14 of the Vuelta a España

Vuelta a España: Romain Bardet misses out on victory but praises Remco Evenepoel

French climber takes second after spending the day in the break on Belgian's road to redemption

Clock16:33, Saturday 9th September 2023

Rather unfairly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Romain Bardet’s (dsm-firmenich) post-race interview at the end of stage 14 of the Vuelta a España was dominated by questions surrounding Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step).

Just a few minutes earlier the Belgian rider had dropped Bardet inside of 4km to go on the final climb of the day before soloing clear to take a second stage win in this year’s race, and find redemption after suffering the most difficult day of his cycling career on the road to the Col du Tourmalet on Friday.

Until the final climb on Saturday’s stage, Bardet had played his part in Evenepoel’s return, forging clear with the Belgian on the first major ascent of the day after the pair had initially been in a huge breakaway that had established itself inside the first hour of racing.

Once Bardet and Evenepoel took flight the duo set about establishing an unassailable lead, ticking off the kilometres as they raced through the heat and hills of the picturesque Basque Country. An unlikely pair in many ways, they rode like teammates at times, Bardet often showering his breakaway companion with water and taking ample turns on the flat roads that naturally don’t suit him.

On the final climb, when Evenepoel stretched his legs and kicked for home, there was a telling moment when the Belgian champion looked back to check that Bardet had indeed yielded, but also, perhaps, as as sign of acknowledgement that the pair had combined to provide one of the most special rides in this year’s race. Evenepoel’s redemption is his and his alone, but Bardet played his part too.

When Bardet came over the line at the finish he made his way to Evenepoel with the pair shaking hands, and then embracing before Evenepoel was whisked away towards the podium.

“It was full gas. We wanted to work together and enjoy the day in the front. It was nice to have the good legs to fight with Remco,” Bardet said at the line.

“I’m not disappointed. He was way strong and he did a lot of work on the front. I just couldn’t follow him on the last climb. I had a feeling that I had a great day. I did a perfect race as far as I’m concerned and my team did everything to get me up there.

"I know that he wanted to win and do a Merckx and I was in his wheel but just couldn’t match him. I was having cramps towards the end because he was setting such a high pace. I was at my absolute limit so I can’t have any regrets. I was feeling so good but I was missing five or six percent. He was the strongest, simple as that.”

Bardet has been in cycling long enough to know that when you’re beat, you’re beat and the Frenchman has built a career as one of the most respected riders in the peloton. That side was on show at the end of a tough day in the mountains, as while some riders would prickle at the idea of their post-stage interview being overshadowed by another rider, Bardet accepted it and paid tribute to Evenepoel.

At 32, and with perhaps just one more year in the WorldTour before a possible retirement, the dsm-firmenich leader is an example to any young professional. 

“Remco is someone I really admire,” he said.

“We’ve been talking a lot and I was just happy to be with him. We were saying we’d ride until the end and then whoever was strongest would win. I wanted to be in the race, in the break for a few days, and today I was able to make it. I gave it 100 per cent and to be beaten by Remco you have to accept. He’s so fast that I have to ride even if I'm following on the downhill or on the flat. He’s just so fast.”

All of the headlines at the Vuelta a España for the last 24 hours have been dominated by Jumbo-Visma and Evenepoel but Bardet’s class on and off the bike deserves much attention and admiration. The saying often goes that nice guys finish last but in this case they just finish second.

Keep up to date with all of the latest racing news from the Vuelta a España on our dedicated race page, linked here.

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