AG2R-La Mondiale's Romain Bardet will start the sixth and final stage of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in third place, hunting an overall victory. The Frenchman finished the queen stage in second place to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to improve from tenth to third place and is on track for his best result of the season to date.
Sixth overall at the Tour of Oman to start 2017, Bardet was 12th at the Abu Dhabi Tour before his inglorious exit from Paris-Nice on stage one due to towing behind the team car. As a result, Bardet adjusted his racing schedule to head to Spain and was tenth overall at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. He has continued his run of Spanish form at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and is on track for his second podium finish in a one-week WorldTour stage race.
“I tried my luck with a kilometer to go hoping to get a bit of a cushion ahead of tomorrow's time trial. After catching Woods and Meintjes, I was jousting with Valverde, Contador and Uran. I'm happy it was a good day," said Bardet of the stage 5 finish. "I felt as good as I have all season. I knew I had it in me judging by the preparatory stages. Today I was really pleased because I was able to be a protagonist in the final."
Bardet's bid for the general classification will come down to the 27.7km Eibar time trial. His first test against the clock in 2017 and first time trial since finishing fifth on stage 18 the Tour de France. It is also Bardet's first race on the new Factor Slick time trial bike.
"Before the race, I said I wanted to make an impact at the Vuelta Al Pais Vasco Half of the work has been done," he added. "Now I will be going to try for a good position in the final classification, and also to test myself in my first individual time trial of the season."
Bardet, Valverde, Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) and Cannondale-Drapac duo Rigoberto Uran and Michael Woods will start the time trial all tied on time. Defending champion Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) is three seconds back to ensure it is all to race for in the time trial. AG2R-La Mondiale directeur sportif Didier Jannel explained that Bardet's performance on stage 5 proved his current form and is confident in the 26-year-old's chances for stage 6.
"His 2nd place put a period on a great day. We knew that this stage would be very important for the general classification, and that we would only be talking about gaps worth a few seconds," said Jannel. "Now the real test among the best of this race will be over the 27 kilometer time trial. Nothing is for certain.We will also be on the road tomorrow morning to give Romain a preview by video."
Bardet's next races will come in the Ardennes where he will line out at Flèche Wallone (April 18) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 23).