Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) believes that a strong Tour de France will be the best preparation possible for a tilt at the Olympic road race next summer. There are less than two weeks between the final stage of the Tour and the road race in Rio, but it suits the Frenchman better to have his two key targets so close together.
“For me it is better because you can maintain the pressure. There is less doubt because it is so soon after the Tour,” Bardet told Cyclingnews. “I’m always in good shape after a Grand Tour. For sure I am tired but I have a good feeling on the bike, and the Olympics is really good for climbers, especially for me. If you have one month or more then you have to train again so the training for the Olympics is the Tour. I’m really happy with how the calendar is made and I hope to be in as good shape as the past few years."
Bardet knows what he is up against in Rio after finishing third in the Aquece Rio - International Road Cycling Challenge that served as the test event, fuelling his desire to make it to the Olympic Games. “I will be 25 and the Olympics will be really hilly so I really want to be in the French team for that event, and I really want to train hard for that. But you have to be lucky to have a good Tour – you could crash at the Tour and be at home for the Olympics.”
Next year’s Tour de France might feature two time trials, a discipline that Bardet is not known for – he lost more than a minute in the 13.8km prologue in the 2015 Tour – but their hilly profile will have raised a smile when they were revealed last month. After knocking on the door of the top five on GC in 2014, the parcours provides him with a strong chance of bettering it and he’s keen not to turn it down, despite having the Olympics around the corner.
“I don’t want to think it is a waste of energy but for sure if you fight for the general classification you have to go full gas in all of the stages. It is a lot of pressure and you are tired at the end but that is the kind of rider that I want it to become,” said Bardet. “Next year I will fight again for the overall classification first and then see how it works.”
A mixed 2015
The 2015 season bore much hope for Bardet after a strong campaign the previous year but it got off to a rocky start. He began well with fifth overall at the Ruta del Sol but he failed to meet his own expectations with a sub-par performance at Paris-Nice a few weeks later. A crash at the Volta a Catalunya and subsequent abandon provided less than perfect preparation for his first major goal of the year, the Ardennes Classics.
The crash forced his hand a little and he packed in 11 days of racing in two weeks over three countries, in an attempt to find his form. His fortunes began to turn around, and he came through with sixth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a top 10 finish at the Tour de Romandie. That work paid off, and he laid claim to an impressive victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a gutsy attack on the descent of the Col d’Allos on stage 5. It was a moment he dubbed ‘more special’ than the stage win he would take in similarly aggressive style at the Tour de France the following month.
“It was a more special feeling because it was the first,” Bardet told Cyclingnews. “Nothing was planned. It was the same in Tour when I was in the break and I saw the opportunity for the victory, but in the Dauphiné when you are with the big guys and when you can go clear alone, it was a special feeling.”
A crash the following day lost him time in the overall classification but the performance boosted his confidence. There was heavy expectation on the French going into the Tour, after putting three into the top 10 in 2014 and a course that should have been a dream for them. From early on though it was apparent that things wouldn’t be as rosy for the home nation as Bardet and his compatriots all suffered in the opening days.
Bardet’s hardest day came when they climbed the Tourmalet in the searing heat on stage 11. He battled on, despite throwing up during the climb, but lost over 13 minutes to bring his total time lost in the first two mountain stages to over 20 minutes. It appeared to bring out the best in the young Frenchman, however, with the leaders now happy to let him attack. After plenty of attacks, he added a stage win to his palmares, had a stint on the mountains jersey, and climbed his way back into the top 10.
“It was definitely a better season than before. I didn’t do a better overall classification in the Tour but I’m still happy, and I guess I had a very consistent Tour,” explained Bardet. “For sure there was frustration but I am still young. I still have to make big progress if I want to do an overall. I always have a jour sans and it’s hard to deal with that. If you have just one jour sans in the race it is hard to finish in the top three or five. Then there were all the big contenders this year, so it’s harder to look at the top 5. I have no regrets.”
The year didn’t end as the Frenchman hoped, with a poor performance at Il Lombardia but, as he looks to begin his winter training ahead of the 2016 season, he has plenty of positives to build upon.