Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) rode 85km of stage 5 of this year's Tour de France to Quimper in Brittany in a training session on Friday. The final 37km also feature in Saturday's Tour du Finistère, where Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen (both BMC) and Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) will also combine racing with vital Tour de France reconnaissance.
"It'll be a spectacular stage," Bardet said of the rolling, twisting stage, which is held the day before the double ascent to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Bardet first made a name for himself at WorldTour level at the 2012 Amstel Gold Race, when he attacked in the finale of the race. Instead of competing in the Dutch event again on Sunday, he has opted to line up at the French Cup race Tour du Finistère on Saturday. He will then compete at Flèche Wallonne (April 18) and Liège-Bastonge-Liège (April 22).
"I wanted a change from my routine," Bardet told Cyclingnews at the end of a training session in the charming village of Locronan.
"Tour du Finistère, being on Saturday, leaves one more day to prepare for my first Monument this season. It'll give me the speed in the legs that I need to tackle Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I would have liked to take part in the Tro Bro Leon on Sunday but I need to save some energy for the following Sunday. Instead, I’ve added the Flèche Wallonne, which wasn't part of my initial plans but is also part of the process. It suits me less than Liège-Bastogne-Liège but I'll do it purely for training. I intend to make efforts in the finale, but I don't want to spread my goals. I'm looking forward to Liège."
Bardet, a winner of the Classique d'Ardèche in February and second at the Strade Bianche in March, finished 13th at the Itzulia Basque Country. He's has since been hampered by a virus that has affected his training.
"I've suffered in the Basque country, and I was forced to rest but since Wednesday, I'm back on track," he said.
"The bad weather in the early part of the season has generated a lot of fatigue in the peloton. I'm one week to go to the end of my first block of racing. I won't draw any conclusion before the end of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Every year since 2013 I've played my role in the finale [he has finished between 6th and 13th in the past five editions of La Doyenne -ed]. I want to seize an opportunity in the finale again."
After his post-Liège break, Bardet will spend most of May training at altitude in Sierra Nevada with the Tour de France in mind. He already studied the cobblestones of stage 9 near Roubaix. Stage 5 could also have an impact on the race for the maillot jaune ahead of the mountains.
"It's an unusual stage," he explained. "It's got no flat. The multiple changes of direction will make it a very spectacular stage very early in the Tour de France. None of the 21 stages are easy. Mentally, they all have the same importance. They require the same focus.
"I can't wait for the summer," Bardet continued. "I'm looking forward to riding in shorts and see a lot of people on the road sides. Of course there will be hard times, days like stage 5 will be full of stress and tension but we know what we signed up for.
"I'm focused for performing better than last year [he was third overall -ed], and I know that Nibali, Quintana, Landa, the Yates, Porte, Martin, etc, will all be on top form.
"If Chris Froome is there, he'll be the number one favourite. Hopefully, his case will be resolved before the Tour. If it were easy, it would have been sorted out already. I don't doubt that the authorities are doing their best to speed up the process, taking all medical and legal aspects into account."