After racking up just one race day since the Tour de Romandie, Romain Bardet is about to embark on the most testing period of his season. The Critérium du Dauphiné, starting on Sunday, is a crucial race in preparation for the Tour de France, where the Frenchman will look to improve on last year’s sixth place. As if that weren’t enough, sandwiched between the two are his final university exams.
The 24-year-old doesn’t seem phased, though, and claims he is exactly where he wants to be – in better shape, even, than last year.
“I know that I am both more mature and stronger than last year,” said the Ag2r-La Mondiale rider. “I’m happy with how the beginning of my season has gone and I am really pleased to see that I could be in contention on some important races. This corresponds to the evolution that I want.
“For example, I saw this on the Tour de Romandie. I took great pleasure in attacking the Tour favourites, and I also showed that I can ride a good time trial.”
Bardet’s promising showing at the Tour last year was preceded by a strong Dauphiné. He finished fifth on a star-studded general classification and was second on the mountain stage to Courchevel. Nevertheless, he doesn’t expect to be competing for the overall win this time.
“The Dauphiné is a race that allows for trying things and to ride freely. I am coming in with the desire to get back in action after a long training and reconnaissance period. It will be a chance to validate this work.
“It does fit my profile, but I feel that I am better suited for three-week races rather than for those of one week, where the preponderance of time trials can be an issue. So, it may be a good idea for me to play the role of a stage hunter.”
If time trials have less influence over the course of Grand Tour, that is especially true of this year’s Tour de France, which features just 13km of individual effort against the clock. There is a 28km team time trial, but that doesn’t scare Bardet, who will be able to prepare with the similar 24.5km test between Roanne and Montagny at the Dauphiné.
“This day will be a rehearsal for the Plumelec stage on Le Tour. Actually, I am more worried about time trial at the Dauphiné than the one at the Tour de France, where we will have more opportunities to regain time that we might lose.”
Between now and Sunday, it's all about putting his feet up and exerting himself mentally rather than physically.
"I am coming out of a period where the workload was heavy, so I need to rest," he said. "I also make the most of the time to study, because I also have a series of exams to validate my final year of school… immediately after the Dauphiné.”