Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) had to settle for second place behind Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) at the end of the Giro della Toscana, but at just over a week from the World Championships road race, one senses that he will have drawn more pluses than minuses from his display on Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the start in Pontedera, Bardet agreed that the race's course, with its three ascents of Monte Serra, suited his talents, but he noted that he was in Tuscany in the middle of a heavy block of pre-Worlds training.
"If it was an uphill finish, I would go for the win," Bardet said. "But for me it's also the middle of a big training block. I did a big training session yesterday and I'll do a big training session tomorrow. I'm here to find my best shape possible for the Worlds."
Bardet has had a limited programme of racing since placing sixth at the Tour de France, with the Deutschland Tour his only stage race in the intervening period. His final build-up to the Worlds is this block of racing in Italy, which began with the Coppa Agostoni and the Coppa Bernocchi last weekend.
With the notable exception of Moscon, who was serving a five-week suspension, the other main Worlds contenders have topped up their form at either the Vuelta a España or Tour of Britain. After a heavy early-season programme, however, Bardet preferred to replicate the workload at home in the Auvergne before travelling to Italy this week.
"The form is coming," Bardet said. "You have to work a lot at home, and you have to do a lot of training if you don't do the Vuelta. It's hard, but you have to do that if you want to be at your best for the Worlds."
Bardet was confirmed in Cyrille Guimard's French team last week, and he is set to make only the third Worlds appearance of his professional career. He made little impact in Florence in 2013 and Ponferrada a year later, although he was later part of a strong French team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Julian Alaphilippe, who placed fourth on that occasion, has enjoyed a sparkling run of recent form, winning the Clasica San Sebastian and Tour of Britain. Already a strong performer in Guimard's debut Worlds as coach last year, Alaphilippe looks set to lead the line again in Austria, although Bardet and Thibaut Pinot – winner of two mountain stages at the Vuelta – give France options on this most demanding of parcours.
"You know, Julian Alaphilippe is maybe the number one rider, but anything can happen at the World Championships," Bardet said. "The whole team will be really strong. The important thing is that there is still one rider from France at the front able to go for the win."
The elite men's road race features seven ascents of the Olympia climb for a total altitude gain of almost 5,000 metres, while the final lap includes the additional, brutally tough ascent of Gramart, dubbed the Hell Climb, which boasts gradients of 28 per cent. Bardet has been to reconnoitre the route in person, but for all its undoubted difficulty, he is mindful that the riders will make the race.
"You don't know. For sure, the last climb is very, very hard, and the win will be decided on that climb, but maybe a group of riders will escape before that. We don't know. We'll have to be able to face any eventualities at the Worlds," said Bardet, who has no objection to such a severe finale.
"It's pretty hard, and that's good, as it will be an interesting race. For climbers, it's not every edition of the Worlds that you have this kind of course, so it's a good thing for a rider like me."
Bardet identified the Spanish, Colombian, Italian and Dutch squads as being among the strongest on the start list for the Worlds, but warned, too, of the threat posed by Vuelta winner Simon Yates and his brother Adam for the Great Britain team.
"The climb suits them perfectly," Bardet said. "There are four or five major teams at the Worlds, and I hope that France can be part of that list."
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