Romain Bardet heads into this Tour de France as the host nation's favourite for overall success. Twice on the podium in last two editions of the French Grand Tour, his AG2R La Mondiale team fields a roster expected to fully support his bid for another podium finish in Paris.
"I have had the honor of climbing on the final podium twice before, so I will be ambitious again, and am surrounded by a great team," Bardet said in a team press release three days ahead of the Grand Depart.
"The Tour is the race for which we prepare all year long, and we approach it with humility. It is a sporting and human adventure that validates a year of work."
In the last two editions of the Tour de France, both won by Chris Froome (Team Sky), Bardet has placed second in 2016 and third in 2017. He has also taken three stage victories; stage 12 at Peyragudes last year, stage 19 atop Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc in 2016 and stage 18 in St-Jean-de-Maurienne in 2015. In a recent interview with Cyclingnews, Bardet spoke of the pressure he faces to perform well at this race.
This year, Bardet will once again face Froome in the battle for the overall title at the Tour de France, set to begin on Saturday in Noirmoutier-En-L'Ïle. The UCI, with advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), recently closed a case against Froome, after the Briton had produced an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for salbutamol at the Vuelta a España last year. Froome is now clear to attempt to win a fifth Tour de France title, and a fourth consecutive Grand Tour after he won the Tour and Vuelta last year, and the Giro d'Italia in May.
Bardet opened his season with a victory at Classic de l'Ardèche and went on to finish second at Strade Bianche and third Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which was the first time he stood on the podium at a Monument. He showed his stage racing strengths at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he finished third behind Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
In June, AG2R La Mondiale announced their Tour de France team to include Oliver Naesen, Tony Gallopin, Pierre Latour, Axel Domont, Silvan Dillier and Alexis Vuillermoz, while Mathias Frank replaces Alexandre Geniez in the line-up.
The team's director Didier Jannel at the Tour de France noted the strength of the roster saying, "We have a great team, motivated, consistent and fully focused on one goal, which is to earn the best place possible in the overall standings."
Likewise, director Julien Jurdie said the team have fond memories of their previous podium finishes at the Tour de France and that they hope to once again be part of the final podium presentations in Paris.
"To help Romain to the greatest heights possible," he said. "We are arriving without being overconfident, but with the certainty that we have been working well towards this ambition for several years. The whole team is focused on one goal."