Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) is better known for his podium places at the Tour de France but he showed that he is far more than a Grand Tour rider with an aggressive ride and a deserved second place in Saturday's Strade Bianche behind Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal).
The Frenchman does not have the physique of a Classics rider but used his bantamweight to dominate the steep gravel-road climbs of southern Tuscany and took inspiration from his love for racing to go on the attack with Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan).
The rare sight of a Tour de France contender and the cyclo-cross world champion on the attack together in a one-day WorldTour race highlighted what makes Strade Bianche unique. Bardet described it as 'pure racing'.
"I've always loved the Classics and I think the Flemish races are the greatest ones but I don't have the physique for them. But I've always thought I could do well in this race and perhaps even in the Tour of Flanders," Bardet said, a quick wipe down revealing a huge smile on his face after being covered in Strade Bianche mud.
"I really like the high mountains but if I can do well in both kinds of races, then it's good for me and for the love of cycling that I have. For sure I'll be back because it's pure cycling here.
"I love the feeling of going hard from the start to the finish. Strade Bianche is hard for everyone; you can't hide, you can't lie, because at the end it's all about the energy you have in your legs and everyone finishes totally empty. That's something I love. I really enjoyed Strade Bianche."
Bardet spent several days in Tuscany before Strade Bianche, mixing training and recon rides of the gravel roads with some precious family time and even some wine tasting.
Bardet sacrificed riding Paris-Nice for his fun on the dirt roads and so made sure he headed home with some cases of quality Italian wine.
"I like Italian races, Italian culture and Italian food," he said. "There's some good wine in Montalcino near here and so it was the perfect way to buy some good Brunello wine, taste some good wine and spend time with my family. And also be 100 per cent focused on the race."
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