Romain Bardet: Stronger, more ambtious, and ready to win

'I didn't want to fall into a stasis and boredom' says French climber

Romain Bardet insists he is "stronger and more mature" as he heads into the 2017 season, with the Frenchman hoping to be competitive in his first outing next week at the Tour of Oman.

The AG2R La Mondiale rider achieved a milestone in his career last year as he finished runner-up at the Tour de France and, having since turned 26, his steady progress is showing every sign of continuing in the right direction.

With strong performances at the Tour de France come high expectations – especially for a Frenchman – though Bardet is determined to remain level-headed as he embarks on a campaign that will be scrutinised ever more keenly.

"I have put that performance into perspective. I had a great season, with around 30 top-10s, and the Tour was a high point – emotionally as well as sportingly – but it's a process," he said in a team Q&A.

"I'm still young, with high ambitions. Success next season doesn't just come down to getting on the podium again. It's about winning races, improving physically and tactically. It's riding the way I like to ride, and being serious in how I handle my career, and being inventive on the bike. Of course, the Tour de France is the major objective but there are lots of opportunities out there in this new season."

Bardet finished runner-up at last year's Tour of Oman after a tussle with Vincenzo Nibali on Green Mountain, attacking near the bottom of the climb but losing the Italian's wheel in the final few hundred metres. Despite stressing that results aren't the overwhelming priority in the first race of the season, he doesn't see why he can't be similarly competitive this time around.

"More than anything it is a return to competition that I am taking on with some unknown factors. Firstly, I will go there to find my marks and verify that all the work I've put in will pay off. It will be a very important moment: If I do well in dealing with the pressure I should be competitive, even for the win," he said in a separate interview with the race organiser.

"I took a close look at the stages and I saw that there will be difficulties just about every day. A six-day race is the right format to put in the mileage, especially since the weather will be good, while the winter is quite severe this year in Europe. I have the feeling there will be real opportunities to put in a strong race, which for me is motivating."

Bardet flirted with the idea of heading to the Giro d'Italia this year but the bosses at AG2R, a French team, were understandably keen to have their star man at his best for the Tour in July.

Bardet has traditionally kicked off his campaigns with a mid-February stage race – often preceded by a one-day outing or two – and this year is no different, but he is adding in another stage race ahead of Paris-Nice, in the form of the Abu Dhabi Tour. The Frenchman will stay in the Middle East after Oman to start Abu Dhabi three days later and will have just a week's gap ahead of the so-called Race to the Sun, which is the first major objective of the season.

"I didn't want to fall into a stasis and boredom by duplicating the same programme each season. With the AG2R management, and my coach, we have chosen to alter the start of the season slightly and to go for two stage races, in the heat, which will allow us to work in good conditions with a view to Paris-Nice," he said. "Last year, the Tour of Oman went well for me – it's a demanding race, with a high level. I'm also going to discover the Abu Dhabi Tour, my first rendezvous in the WorldTour. I enjoy those new experiences.

"I feel both stronger and more mature, after a 2016 season that was decisive concerning my confidence. I can’t wait for this season to start but at the same time I know how things go. And I know very well that you cannot waste your energy in February.

"I've been training since the start of November, after a good break, and I feel good – neither ahead or behind in my preparation. The sensations are good for February, I've not been ill or had any physical problems, the camps with the team have allowed us to become a tight-knit group. Now, it's time to validate that in competition."

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