Romain Bardet and his AG2R-La Mondiale team have confirmed that the Frenchman will again target the Tour de France in 2017, despite Bardet's initial hopes to ride the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia.
Bardet spoke openly about his love if Italian racing and his desire to ride the Giro d'Italia at the team's first get together in November. However the global importance of the Tour de France for the team and its sponsors, has pushed him to accept a traditional race programme.
AG2R-La Mondiale revealed he will also ride Paris-Nice, the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné. It was not announced where Bardet will start his 2017 season.
"As with past seasons, the Tour de France will be the objective with the highest priority for the season. In coming to that decision, we had a serious discussion with the team management and my coach to talk about the stakes involved and to put everything into perspective," Bardet said in a statement from the AG2R-La Mondiale team from a training camp in Candia, Spain.
"What is certain is that I will not be participating in the Giro d'Italia, which I considered doing for a time. I want to discover the Italian race in particular, but it proved more interesting to us, for the immediate future, to choose a program that will resemble, in broad strokes at least, the sort of program I've followed in previous seasons."
Bardet finished second in the 2016 Tour de France, winning stage 19 to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and is seen as France's best hope of taking on Chris Froome in 2017. However he moved quickly to play down expectations.
"The route for this upcoming edition is very interesting, taking in the five main mountain ranges in France. It will include strategic time trials, and perhaps will offer an element of surprise by including fewer of the high mountain passes," he said.
"The Tour de France is of course the main objective. I am not really thinking in terms of targeted numbers or placings, but in quality of performance. I know that my second place from last season will generate high expectations, but I am not going to get fixated on that."
"Considering the rest of the year, there will certainly be other highlights like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, for which I feel a real attachment, as well as week-long stage races like Paris-Nice, the Tour of the Basque Country, and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Winning some stages, and trying to wear and defend a leader's jersey in one of those races would also be a great challenge."
Team manager Vincent Lavenu justified the team's decision to again target the Tour de France.
"Romain wanted to participate in the Giro, so this was not a decision to take lightly. We took into account a number of parameters, and our team, Romain, his coach and AG2R La Mondiale took part in the discussion," he explained.
"The best solution was to go forward with a traditional program. The 2017 Tour de France suits Romain's qualities, and we will support him so that he can arrive at the start in the best condition possible. He also would like to discover the Tour of the Basque Country, which is a difficult race where he can make full use of his aggressive temperament."