Romain Bardet shot to prominence this summer as he battled with his compatriot Thibaut Pinot for the Tour de France’s coveted best young rider’s white jersey. Pinot walked away with a jersey and a podium placing but Bardet put in a hugely impressive ride to finish sixth in only his second Grand Boucle. He is considered a future Tour de France contender and a part of the new generation of French Grand Tour riders. Ag2r-La Mondiale consider him a key team leader and he has signed an extension to his contract that means he stay with the team until 2018.
Cyclingnews spoke to the 23-year-old Frenchman to talk about the Tour de France, his rivalry with Pinot, the leadership battle at Ag2r-La Mondiale and his double life as a business student.
Cyclingnews: You’ve just finished your season at Il Lombardi, what are the plans for the coming weeks?
Romain Bardet: It’s time to do things that you can’t do during the season, to meet friends, to have a good time, to live like a young French guy. It’s also time for me to work on my business course. Sometimes during the season I have been a bit late and I have some work to do to catch up. I will start training in early November.
CN: This year has been fantastic for you, what are your thoughts on how it went?
RB: Sometimes it’s hard to be objective. At the beginning of the season I thought that it would be a great year if I could make a top 10 in a Classic and a one-week race in the WorldTour. I did both and I did more than that. Of course I was really happy with how the Tour de France went. I wasn’t prepared to be in the position of fighting for the podium after two weeks. For me, mentally, it was something new. I didn’t believe too much in myself but now for the next years I will have more confidence in myself to fight for the first positions.
CN: How did you find the pressure?
RB: I started the Tour just to learn and to support Péraud, and maybe go for a stage win. I wasn’t sure about my ability to be up there. When I saw the pressure from the media was growing quickly during the first two weeks and I was on the podium, it was really hard to deal with. It was really new and it’s always special at the Tour de France, especially for the young French guys. It is something that I have to deal with over the next years.
CN: What was it like battling with Thibaut Pinot for the young riders’ classification?
RB: Pinot is a good friend of mine and we know each other very well, so it was good for us to fight in the classification. There was no bad feelings. It was an awesome battle and I am happy when he is in this position, because I know that I can do the same in the following years. I know for him it is the same. It’s a good motivation and it’s good for French cycling.
CN: Will we see a rivalry between yourself and Pinot, and perhaps Warren Barguil too?
RB: We have a good generation of climbers. Warren is also really strong and maybe it is good for us to be three, because there is the pressure on our shoulders is shared. When there was just Pierre Rolland who was performing well in the Tour it was really hard because he had all the pressure on him.
CN: Could you be future Tour de France winners?
RB: We don’t know. Maybe yes. For me, I don’t wake up every morning thinking that I am going to win the Tour. It is not my prerogative, but I will do my best. It is not that I don’t believe in my abilities, but it is not my motivation. We have a really strong generation in the international bunch like (Nairo) Quintana and (Michal) Kwiatkowski, who are really strong. We will see, but it’s hard to say.
CN: Ahead of the Tour it was expected that Carlos Betancur would lead the Ag2r-La Mondiale team, although he didn’t ride in the end. Do you feel your result this year means that you may take that role next season, along with Jean Christophe Péraud?
RB: It was hard for him this year. He’s a good rider so he doesn’t like the criticism from the media. When he is in good shape he can win big races and I guess he wanted to show what he can do. I am sure that he will have a good season next year and if he has a good start then I am sure he will ride the Tour. With Jean Christophe Péraud it was a strength to have both of us in the team, because we could support each other. I am sure that it would have been impossible for me to do the same Tour de France without Jean Christophe.
CN: Will there be a battle for the leadership at next year’s Tour?
RB: I don’t know if it is the best option to have three leaders at the Tour de France, maybe it is too much. Maybe one can come for the stage victory. With Carlos, we can race well together. I helped him in the Classics last year at Amstel and Fleche. At the bottom of the Mur. He had more chance to win there than me if I can do the job well enough for him. I know that in that situation he can do the same, especially in the Classics like Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Grand Tours. It’s how the team works. It isn’t just leaders and helpers.
CN: You extended your contract with A2gr-La Mondiale until 2018. Why did you choose to extend for so long?
RB: I didn’t hesitate to sign with (team manager) Vincent (Lavenu). He helped me in my last two years as an Under 23 rider, he helped me to turn professional and we have a really good relationship. I really feel that the whole team is watching out for me and they are interested in my future. It is important for me take time to keep improving every year and for me it is the best place to become a good rider.
CN: Could you stay there for you whole career?
RB: I don’t know, it’s hard to say today. I am still really young. I just know that we have four years to improve and to do things right, be more professional, discover new things together and to be stronger. After, when I turn 28, I will know if I can win a Grand Tour or not and I will make my choices, but for now I have four years to do my best and maybe reach my limits.
CN: After such a good 2014, what are your targets for next year?
RB: I guess it will be the same goals. I've seen the route of the Giro d'Italia and I’m pretty sure it is the Grand Tour that suits me best. But it is hard for a French guy to miss the Tour. I have done the Tour twice and it has worked well both times that I’ve done it, so I think I will continue in this direction next year but I hope to be able to ride the Giro d'Italia in the following years. I will also try to do a good Classics campaign.
CN: You mentioned your degree before. You have been studying since you turned professional, how are you finding balancing school and professional racing?
RB: Sometimes it’s really hard, especially at stage races where I don’t have a lot of time. I really appreciate when I have a rest day being able to think of something different away from cycling and training. It was relatively easy when I was a neo-pro, because I wasn’t as involved as I am now. I did a lot of training camps this year, to focus on big goals, so now I feel like it is time to do my work for the school. I still have one year left, but I will take my time. If it takes two years then it will take two years, there is no pressure. The teachers follow cycling. During the Tour, I got a message from the professor so I knew that they were supporting me.