While much of the pre-Tour talk in France centred on the GC prospects of Pierre Rolland and Thibaut Pinot, a good deal of that focus has since shifted towards a new French climbing prospect, Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet. The 22-year-old is making his Tour debut and is in the race primarily to learn. However, as he’s already shown on a number of occasions during his nascent pro career, Bardet is eager to get experience by testing himself out at the sharp end of races.
On stage nine to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Bardet moved up to the breakaway group on the second climb of the day, the Col de Menté, and was still there on the fifth and final ascent of the Hourquette d’Ancizan. Sensing the imminent arrival of the yellow jersey group, which was being driven along at a rapid clip by Movistar, the young Frenchman jumped away on his own, only to be caught 6km short of the summit.
In his blog on L’Équipe’s site, Bardet explained that his attack had two goals. “My main objective in the Tour is to win a stage and there aren’t very many ways I can do this: in fact, all I can do is anticipate what’s going to happen. The other aspect to it is that the team asked me to try to get into the break in order to be able to provide some support to Jean-Christophe Péraud,” he said.
Bardet said he had relished the opportunity to mix it with the big guns on the Hourquette, but had had to yield. He added, though, that he hopes the days when he finds himself in among the big names in the mountains aren’t too far away.
“What I hope for, what fills me with ambition, is the prospect of being involved at the end of stages with the contenders. But you have to realistic and aim for what you can with the level you have. For me, the next two or three years are all about learning. I’m still doing my homework [with regard to the Tour], and the best way of doing so is by being right up at the front,” he explained. “As far as my longer-term prospects are concerned, I should know a lot more at the end of the Tour. Everyone agrees that I am going to get more powerful, that I have a margin for progression.”
Since turning pro at the start of last season, Bardet has impressed hugely in hilly Classics. Last year he was on the attack for 220km at Amstel Gold before being caught inside the final 10k, and at the end of the season he was away for a similar distance at the Tour of Lombardy, where he led over the Muro di Sormano. This season, he shone in the Ardennes Classics, finishing 13th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
He says his performance at Liège was particularly pleasing “because I got involved in the battle with the very best riders in the final stages,” and because it showed that he is much more than the breakaway specialist he has been labelled by some. “My reputation as a breakaway rider has come by default,” he explained. “It’s not what I aspire to for the rest of my career, it is simply the only way at the moment that I can get a good result.”
He also revealed that Ag2r’s absence from the Critérium du Dauphiné had, to an extent, helped his preparations for the Tour, as it enabled him to spend several days training on the big passes that feature in the final week of the Tour. “That was important because it was thanks to this huge amount of base work that I started to find my climbing legs. They helped me on Sunday, but I need to do more work on them for the future,” said Bardet.
He admitted, though, that he can see the difference between his preparation on the short passes in the Auvergne that require an effort of 20-25 minutes and Sky’s camps on Tenerife, where the climbs are more than twice as long. “They are more used to be those long anaerobic efforts. On the Tour the climbs are done with a steamroller method, by holding a rhythm that doesn’t change. I need to be able to adjust to that.”