The Frenchman, twice a podium finisher at the Tour de France, recognized that race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) is practically untouchable but counted himself in for a podium tussle that could go any number of ways.
"There are six guys fighting for just two spots, so it will be a tight fight, but who knows what can happen," Bardet said during a rest-day press conference on Tuesday.
Those other five riders are Damiano Caurso (Bahrain Victorious), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo). Bardet trails them all in seventh place, but he’s within 45 seconds of Ciccone, Yates, and Vlasov, while Carthy is 1:22 ahead in third and Caruso 2:38 ahead in second.
"The other guys are in a better position than me for the podium spots but the fight is not over," Bardet said.
"We saw yesterday [Monday] that the GC is not sealed yet. There are still six guys following Bernal who can all move on GC in the final week, so it will be interesting to see."
Despite that potential for movement, Bardet was happy to admit that he and the other five are fighting over the lower steps of the podium. The Giro has been upended in the final week on numerous occasions – most recently by Vincenzo Nibali in 2016 and Chris Froome in 2018 – but Bernal has looked a cut above the competition at every turn so far.
On Monday’s stage 16, Bernal rode clear on the Passo Giau to collect his second stage win and extend his overall lead to 2:24 over Caruso.
"Bernal has shown us all a clean pair of heels," Bardet, who trails by more than five minutes, acknowledged. "To take the maglia rosa from him... he and his team have been so strong since the start of the Giro that no one dares think about that.
"If Yates has a good few days he can recover the situation, and EF and Astana are both strong, but I’m not sure anyone can pull off a big exploit. So in terms of turning the race upside down, no, but the race for the podium is going to be hard and a real battle."
Bardet himself can look forward in hope after a morale-boosting second place on Monday, when - with the obvious exception of Bernal - he trailed only Caruso over the top of the Passo Giau before catching him on the descent.
Until then, Bardet had mainly conceded time to his podium rivals. He was 13th overall on the first rest day and while he found himself ninth after Saturday’s summit finish on the Monte Zoncolan, his deficit to those riders had grown to minutes.
On Monday, however, he put 55 seconds back into Carthy and Ciccone, 1:45 into Vlasov, and 2:10 into Yates. That might have been more, had the route not been cut by 60 kilometres and two major climbs, although he stopped short of criticizing the decision or indulging in what-ifs.
Either way, he’s feeling better than he ever has in a Team DSM jersey, and perhaps better than he has in a number of years.
"I’m feeling fresh. I didn’t come into the Giro at 100 per cent, the plan being to reach my peak for the third week. Yesterday I saw some very positive signs," he said.
"Since the start of the season I’ve been lacking something but I think I’m now back at my best level, so that gives me hope for what’s to come, and to fight for the best result possible. We’ll see what that will be.
"The gaps above me are quite tight, and it’ll be a fight to the last, but I’ve got nothing to lose and I’ll race aggressively. If I have legs like yesterday I rule nothing out and I’ll see where they take me."
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