Romain Bardet wasn't in Paris last week for the presentation of the 2019 Tour de France race route, but the AG2R La Mondiale team leader liked the mountainous, high-altitude, limited-time-trial route. With stage 9 on Bastille Day also finishing in his hometown of Brioude in the Massif Central, Bardet could not ask for a better route for another shot at overall victory.
Yet Bardet would like even more mountain finishes, more dirt roads and anything that could help him break Team Sky's stranglehold on the Tour. In an exclusive interview, he tells Cyclingnews he is in favour of anything that "shakes up the race", including six-rider teams, as proposed by UCI President David Lappartient.
"What's more boring than a few big teams controlling the race until the sprint or until the last kilometre of a climb? That's not the cycling we want," Bardet told Cyclingnews in an end-of-season interview.
"I'm in favour of everything that shakes up the Tour de France and gives a chance to the brave riders who want to take some risks and give their all. It would be really good to put some fantasy back in the Tour. I think if we had 30 teams of just six riders at the Tour de France, it would be great, as then we could see some unexpected things happen. That's what cycling needs.
"It's a very beautiful route, which looks quite difficult on paper, with very little downtime," Bardet said of the 2019 route, noting few stages on which the overall contenders will be able to relax and recover during the 21 days of racing.
"There are a number of middle-sized mountains, and any time there are mid-sized mountain stages, you know that they're going to be very tricky, with uncertain outcomes. Then there are the high-mountain stages, with those mythical passes: the Izoard, Tourmalet, Galibier and Iseran. These important tests at altitude should be able to widen the gap between the favourites."
France's greatest hope for the Tour
Bardet is arguably France’s best hope of winning the 2019 Tour de France and ending the 34-year gap since Bernard Hinault won in 1985. The 27-year-old finished sixth overall this year and is keen to get his Grand Tour trajectory back on track in 2019 after finishing second in 2016 and third in 2017.
"It's a bit frustrating, but it is what it is. I still think my season was a success," Bardet says, with his natural balanced character and French aplomb.
He was second at the rain-soaked, mud-covered Strade Bianche in March after going on the attack with cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert. Later in the spring, he was third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and then worked hard after the Tour de France to peak for the Innsbruck World Championships, where he stepped up when Julian Alaphilippe floundered, and finished second behind Alejandro Valverde in the road race.
"Everyone expects a lot at the Tour de France and it's a huge part of the season. I know that, and I'm OK with that, but the other races are important, too. It was good to be up there in all of those other races. I don't only want to be good at the Tour de France. I like to mix it up."
Looking to the future, not the past
Bardet prefers to look ahead, to the future, down his personal road, rather than look back and concern himself about the past, be that his results at the Tour de France or even the doping problems of others in the past, including those of Valverde, who beat him in Innsbruck to win the world title.
"You'd go completely mad if you thought about it too much. The past is part of cycling, but it's the past,” Bardet said when asked about Valverde.
"The essence of racing is about attacking and trying to get an advantage, about taking your opportunities when they come, rather than reflecting too much on what happened," he explains.
"It's how I approach the Tour de France, too. I love the challenge of the Tour, even if it demands a lot from you mentally and physically, and creates huge expectations. You can't be disappointed if you don't win the Tour de France because it's extraordinary when you do win. Only one person can ride into Paris in yellow. I know I just have to try to do my best every year because you never know – one day I could win it."