One of the first words uttered by the Frenchman after wheeling to a stop outside his team bus – despite the lung-busting effort that netted him a solid eighth place – was 'magnifique'. A quick swig of Italian spring water and he was on the rollers, and waxing lyrical of his new-found affection for Italian racing. Racing in Italy, especially in a stage racing format, has been a rare occurrence for the 27-year-old so far in his career.
"I'm really enjoying my time in Italy, and it's all looking good for the rest of the season. It's a really nice area, I love Italy and there's less pressure here for me than in France," Bardet told Cyclingnews.
Bardet has been in a relaxed frame of mind all week. That's partly due to a consistently high level so far this season that has already netted him a win in France and second place in Strade Bianche. With a parcours at Tirreno-Adriatico that isn't ideal in terms of his skill set, Bardet has stepped back and used the race as a learning experience, picking up tricks and lessons from the opening team time trial and using the road trip through Italy as a building block towards his Tour de France challenge.
On Friday, at least, he was provided with the terrain on which is natural ability could shine. He was not able to respond when Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) attacked on the final climb, but the Frenchman climbed to eight on the stage and now sits 21st overall, 58 seconds behind overall leader Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).
The next two days, and certainly stage 4 with its summit finish at Sarnano Sassotetto, will be more to Bardet's liking, and for the first time this week he began to tentatively talk about the overall standings.
"This is my first stage race of the season. It was a long stage today but really slow and the pace wasn't high. That meant that it really hurt when the race picked up on the final climb. It's a wonderful race though and I'm happy with the legs. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's summit finish," Bardet said. "Today I finished inside the top ten, and didn't lose time but I know that I need to gain time on my rivals if I want to do well in the overall."
Thoughts of an attack from the AG2R La Mondiale leader were dispelled on the final climb today. He was near the front as Team Sky drove the pace, with only Roglic and Adam Yates – who finished second - able to create clear air between themselves and the bunch.
"Yeah, but there are, as usual, still four Team Sky riders and the winner Roglic lost some time yesterday, so he wasn't in the mix for the overall. Team Sky was still impressive today. With the time trials it's hard for me. I hope to do well tomorrow and then on the next hilly finish. I know that I'm in good shape for this time of year."