Romain Bardet impressed last year when he went on to claim sixth overall at the Tour de France. His 2015 season hasn’t gone to plan so far with a crash during the Volta a Catalunya preventing him from contesting the overall classification and eventually out of the race. Bardet has picked himself up though and begins a busy two weeks of racing with the Giro del Trentino.
Cyclingnews caught up with the Frenchman to discuss his first appearance at the Italian race, targeting success at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and his preparation for the Tour de France.
Cyclingnews: You're riding Trentino for the first time. Why have you gone there rather than ride the other Ardennes Classics?
Romain Bardet: It's a race that suits me well and it is good for me to get into shape before Liège. I've had some problems with injuries, after I crashed in Catalunya I missed some days. It's a new option for me so I'm pretty excited to try it.
I really do like the classics but I saw Amstel on the television the other day and the race is long and hard but there were still 20 guys at the finish so it's not really a race for me to get a result. I think it was better for me to focus on the classic that suits me well and that's Liège. Races like Amstel and Flèche are very stressful and you need to be on the front all day to avoid crashes. I've done it since I turned professional three years ago and I wanted to find another way to prepare for Liège.
CN: Do you have ambitions for Trentino or is it all about preparation for Liège?
RB: It's preparation. The numbers in training were really good but I don't know how I will feel in the race. The big aim for me is Liège so maybe I will not do the whole race to save some energy but I don't know. Maybe I will go for the overall but if I don't feel as good as expected then it's not my main focus. I am also doing Romandie so I need to save some energy for two busy weeks.
CN: You finished top 10 at Liège last year, what are you hoping for this time?
RB: Last year maybe there were 50 guys at the bottom of the penultimate climb so it was a very tough finish. I expect a harder race with the new course and I hope to improve on that and be close to the top five. The top five is the goal for the next years. The new climbs are better for our team and I hope to make a move in the final.
I don't expect a massive finish like last year. It is more difficult than before so everyone will be more tired. I guess that climbs like Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons will be harder for everyone and from there maybe we can go with a small group to Liège. I’m really happy with the addition of the Col du Rosier, it’s a small col and it would be really good to maybe isolate other leaders on this climb.
CN: What are Ag2r's options for the race? Will you be the sole leader?
RB: I don't know yet but we have (Domenico) Pozzovivo who has been going really well this year and is also doing Trentino. We will be the two main cards for this race but (Rinaldo) Nocentini is also in shape. I don't want especially to be the only one. I think that it is better for our team to have many options because we don't have a rider that can win a sprint against guys like [Simon] Gerrans so it's better to try and escape than come to the line with these guys.
CN: Which riders do you see as being the big contenders?
RB: There are plenty of really good riders but I hope to go on the attack with riders like Dan Martin, who has a real fighting spirit. But for me and my team we don't have to follow if we want to make a big result, we will try to take the victory or to try something different, and I guess with the new course there will be less riders at the bottom of the Cote de Saint Nicolas and it is there that you can make a difference.
CN: After Liège you have Romandie, is there a reason you've chosen such a packed programme with lots of travelling?
RB: I really wanted to have some time to do a really good racing block. For example, after Catalunya and the classics I will just do the Dauphiné before the Tour. It is really important to do a really good block of races before going on a small week of holiday and I wanted to ride some WorldTour races and to try to train for the time trialling in the middle of the Tour. I feel a bit disappointed with my Paris-Nice and Catalunya and I want to get a good result before going to prepare for the Tour.
CN: What is the most important target for you at Romandie?
RB: A stage win. We will have a strong team there with Jean-Christophe Péraud. The course suits him better than me with two time trials. I will just try to do my best and go for a stage win but I don't know how I will feel. I will have a big block with Liège and Trentino, so maybe on the first stage I will feel a little bit tired but I am very motivated and have a very good final week of this part of the season. I will have a little break afterwards so I don't have to worry about emptying the tank for the race.
CN: After such a good 2014 do you find your own expectations are much higher?
RB: For sure my own expectations are high. I feel like I am stronger than last year in the training and I will do my best to show that in races. I'm really confident and I feel strong, and for me I'm on a good way to show that in the big races.
I felt really good in Catalunya before my crash. I didn't want to go to Paris-Nice before that because the course didn't suit me but I decided to do it to prepare for Catalunya, but it was not a good choice. As a French rider there is always a lot of pressure to go to Paris-Nice and the expectations were a bit too high considering the route. The level in the WorldTour is really high and if you have a small problem like I did at Catalunya then your expectations are already over.
You just have to concentrate yourself and focus on the coming races. That's what I’ve done the past few weeks and for now I'm just really looking forward to racing and fighting for the win.