Romain Bardet continued his AG2R La Mondiale team's run of decent spring Classics finishes with ninth place at Amstel Gold on Sunday. The Frenchman only recently returned to racing having crashed out of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in late March, and must now be considered one of the favourites for Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège next weekend.
Oliver Naesen has principally flown the flag for the French WorldTour team this spring, with second place at Milan-San Remo, third at Gent-Wevelgem and – in the Belgian's eyes, at least – a slightly disappointing seventh place at the Tour of Flanders and 13th at Paris-Roubaix.
Naesen also took 28th at Amstel, which is a race that Bardet had said didn’t particularly suit him, either, and which he hadn't raced since 2014, when he finished 33rd. He then promptly rode to his top-10 finish there this weekend.
"To tell the truth, I've never felt great at Amstel," Bardet told Cyclingnews at the Volta a Catalunya, before he crashed out. "But it could well be important to have this race in the legs ahead of Flèche and Liège."
Bardet now goes into this week's Flèche full of the confidence that a top-10 result provides, having only returned to racing at last Wednesday's Paris-Camembert, after the crash that left him with sore – but luckily not fractured – ribs after a 70kph downhill crash on the final stage of the Catalan stage race.
"The race kicked into gear very early, and was pretty disjointed," Bardet said of his Amstel Gold ride on his team's website.
"It's nice to get to the finish line with a chance to go for the win in a race like Amstel. I didn't panic today, and started to feel better and better as the kilometres ticked by.
"For my return to UCI WorldTour racing, this result bodes well for the next two events: Flèche Wallonne [April 24] and Liège-Bastogne-Liège [April 28]," Bardet added. "I wasn't certain how well I would go when I arrived here, so I'm pretty happy with this result. This is actually my first top 10 at this race, and I can see that my body is responding well after some heavy workloads."
Bardet has targeted the Ardennes Classics as one of his goals this season, which he started late – but well – with second place overall at the Tour du Haut Var in late February. He then raced to fifth place overall at Paris-Nice in mid-March, before crashing out at Catalunya while sitting in eighth place.
The 28-year-old is expected to take a break after Liège, and will then likely head to the Sierra Nevada mountains in southern Spain for a high-altitude training camp in May – as he's done each year since 2014 – before returning to racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, ahead of the Tour de France.
Bardet will attempt to improve on a best Tour finish of second, achieved in 2016, in an effort to become the first French rider to win the race since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
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