Finishing second overall at last year’s Tour de France has hardly left Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) with much margin for improvement, and the subtext to the opening question in his pre-race press conference in Düsseldorf was clear. “Have you progressed since last year?” Bardet was asked. In other words, can he bridge the 32-year gap and become France’s first Tour winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985?
“I think I have progressed but the road will reveal more,” Bardet said carefully. “I’ve prepared very seriously and we’ll see over the three weeks.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Pierre Carrey of Libération last week, Bardet employed a neat formula to downplay the weight of carrying home hopes on the Tour. “I’m not riding to win the Tour. I’m riding for my best performance,” Bardet said then, and he returned to the thought on Friday morning.
“There are greater expectations,” Bardet acknowledged. “But this is my fifth Tour and my fourth aiming for the general classification, so I know what I’m facing into. Finishing on the podium last year was a validation of the work we’re been doing on this team. The objective is to be at that level of performance year after year, but the result isn’t determined solely by how you perform physically. We have the experience, too, to turn the race to our advantage at certain points.”
Chris Froome (Sky) was a dominant victor at last year’s Tour, where Bardet’s invention on the road to Saint Gervais helped to separate him from the clutch of riders on his coattails to claim second place in Paris. On the evidence of the season to date – and the Dauphiné in particular – the gap between Froome and his rivals seems to have narrowed. The clutch of contenders for overall victory this year – Bardet poetically referred to them as a pléiade – should, at least in theory, making for a very different race to the controlled fare of twelve months ago.
“From my point of view, I’d put Richie Porte on the level of Chris Froome in the mountains and the time trials, even though he doesn’t have the same experience when it comes to winning the Tour,” Bardet said.
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