‘It was pure joy’ - Romain Bardet’s Tour de France victory should make you believe in happy endings

In his last participation in the Tour, the French rider took the win and yellow jersey on the opening stage after an inspired two-up attack with his teammate

There are days when cycling grants riders their fairytale. It doesn’t happen often, and the sport takes as much as it gives, but when it does, the moment is so special that it’s hard to think of another sporting arena which can evoke such emotion. In the first stage of the 2024 Tour de France – after 11 years of trying – Romain Bardet had his day.

The Frenchman’s celebrations as he crossed the finish line with his teammate showed how much it meant. Crowded by reporters and cameras, Bardet embraced Frank van den Broek, who finished second on the stage, with visceral joy – a decade and a half of hard work amounted to this day, this moment, on the biggest stage of them all. 

“First and second on a Tour stage, taking the yellow jersey, you can’t ask for much more,” Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL sports director, Matt Winston, grinned afterwards. 

Bardet’s victory was special because it was as much for the team as it was for himself. Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL are known for their clinical, scientific and practical approach to bike racing, something that hasn’t suited every rider who has come through the Dutch outfit’s ranks. Bardet and Van den Broek’s stinging two-up attack today is proof, though, that when this ethos works, it really works.

“We spoke until 1am in the morning at the Giro about the first weekend of the Tour de France and that we really wanted to go for these Italian stages and try and take the jersey in the first weekend,” Winston explained. “We went in with four guys on rotation for the breakaway and four climbing guys. Frank was in the break and then Romain felt super on the third last climb so he jumped across and Frank could help him. It was unbelievable.”

Photo: Charly Lopez/A.S.O

There is clear symbolism in the way that Bardet and Van den Broek worked together when they found themselves clear of the peloton in the run into Rimini. The Dutch rider is 10 years Bardet’s junior, and is competing in his first ever Tour de France, while Bardet is in his last, with plans to retire in 2025. In some ways, this victory was the French rider’s perfect goodbye to his team as he leaves it with the next generation of promising young talent, with Van den Broek at the forefront.

“[Winning with a teammate] brings so much more because it was the only way we could do it today. I say we because he won as much as me today. It's just the way we wanted to race here. It's the first day of his first-ever Tour de France and he was one of the three guys, with Warren and me, to have permission to be in the break today and to see if we could score some points and maybe go all the way,” Bardet gushed in his post-race press conference. “It's crazy to be the strongest from the initial break and it was the confirmation that we could go all the way to the finish. I think I wouldn't have done it without him so it was a collective victory.”

While clinical planning and preparation have certainly been a crucial ingredient in Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL’s success, Bardet’s victory is a win for cycling’s romantics. He raced with passion and emotion, fuelled by years of experience fighting for cycling’s most coveted prize.

“It was just pure cycling. We are just two mates on the bike riding as fast as we can and going through pain,” the Frenchman said of his performance.

“It was racing instinct,” Bardet’s teammate, Oscar Onley, added a few moments after congratulating the older rider. “He said on the radio he felt good and Matt said to give it a go as we had Frank up the road to help. It’s incredible.”

Young riders like Onley and Van den Broek form part of the next era of professional cycling and Bardet’s contribution to their development should not be underestimated. The Frenchman is calm, knowledgeable and approachable – something that has helped him act as a mentor figure for new riders on his team. In some ways, the work that Van den Broek did to help Bardet today is a sort of repayment for the mentoring the 33-year-old has offered within the Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL organisation.

“Me and Romain have worked closely over the time he’s been in the team and we have a really good relationship. He’s got some of his best results with the team since he came here and I’m really pleased for him, this is his last Tour de France and it means a lot to him and to the team as well,” Winston said. “He’s in the team to share his knowledge and look after the guys and coach them a bit. We saw that coming out this morning in the bus when we made the plan and also on the road as well.”

There are still plenty of opportunities for Bardet and his team to target more stage wins and there’s also the yellow jersey to think about defending over the next few days. Winston was confident that Bardet will not switch focus to ride for the general classification, but instead the team will continue to stay true to their aggressive racing style, looking for inventive ways to grasp opportunities for victory. 

Regardless of what comes next in the 20 days of the Tour still remaining, however, Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL have already experienced the joy of professional racing at its most intense, emotional level – something that will always remain as a glittering chapter in their fairytale. Bardet described the feeling of crossing the finish line in the muggy heat on Rimini’s coastline in four words that summed up the feelings of many who watched him take victory today: 

“It was pure joy.”

Rachel Jary

Cover image: James Startt

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