Romain Bardet will ride two grand tours in the same season for the first time in his career in 2017. While the Frenchman has underlined his desire to have a crack at the Giro d'Italia before heading to the Tour de France, the AG2R-La Mondiale team management are leaning towards the Vuelta a España.
Sitting down with a group of reporters, including Cyclingnews, above an ice rink in the Alpine town of Vaujany, where the AG2R-La Mondiale team has gathered for its first off-season camp, Bardet spoke of his desire to "stimulate myself to continue progressing and avoid falling into a certain routine."
The Tour de France is the only Grand Tour Bardet has known. Now 26, he has ridden every edition since his second year as a professional in 2013 and has progressed steadily, making a significant breakthrough this year by finishing runner-up behind Chris Froome. That performance raised expectations among supporters French hungry for a successor to Bernard Hinault even if he recently claimed he’s not yet ready to win it.
As a French rider on a French team with a French sponsor, missing the Tour de France isn't a viable option for Bardet, at least for now. The question is which Grand Tour will be chosen to complement it.
"I really want to go to the Giro," said Bardet, stressing that it's "50-50" at this moment in time and that a final decision will be taken in December.
"It would mean lots of reconnaissance and training camps and it remains to be seen whether it's compatible with the Tour. I know what I owe to the Tour and the love that I have for the race, so it's tough to say to myself that I might be below my best there. It's a tough one."
The pitfalls of the Giro d'Italia
Doubling up on the Giro and Tour is an exacting task, as Alberto Contador discovered when he came up short in his bid to become the first rider to win both in the same season since Marco Pantani in 1998. The Vuelta, by contrast, has seen Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana finish on the podium results in the wake of strong showings at the Tour in recent years.
Bardet smiles to himself when he mentions the string of mountain stages in the final week of the Giro, but his enthusiasm is not necessarily shared by his employers.
"I don't think it's the right year to do the Giro," his closest directeur sportif, Julien Jurdie, told Cyclingnews. "Especially when you have a Tour de France parcours that's so well suited to him – with not much time trialling, lots of massifs, climbs and descents.
"The Giro parcours is very tough, very exacting. I think doing that Giro before the Tour, it's maybe too hard this year to do that double. We'd be going up against Italians who are very, very motivated for the 100th edition. Romain doesn't know Italian roads – there are many pitfalls that Nibali and Aru, and those with more experience know all about.
"From my point of view it's the Vuelta that looks more likely than the Giro. My ideal plan would be to do the Tour and Vuelta. Personally, I've worked on the Vuelta 11 times and the Tour 12 times, and I know that it's possible to be a protagonist in both. I think the Vuelta can really suit the physical and mental qualities of Romain."
There will be plenty of discussion – and disagreement perhaps – over the next month or so, but Jurdie and the team's manager, Vincent Lavenu, count themselves lucky they have a rider who is willing to shake things up in his seemingly interminable quest for self-improvement.
"The thinking is longer term," said Bardet, who recognises the need to push himself, to grow as a leader and to start winning smaller races before he can end France's 30-year wait for a home winner of the Tour.
"There's plenty of time trialling at the Giro – that could help me develop in that area and could serve me well for the Tour. Not necessarily in 2017 but in the years to come."
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