Romain Bardet says that his 'story is still to be written' at Paris-Nice and that it is a race he would like to perform at before he retires. Bardet returns to the eight-day race to lead AG2R La Mondiale for the first time since he was disqualified following stage 1 of the 2017 event for holding onto his team car.
Bardet has raced solely in France so far this season and is using Paris-Nice as part of his preparation for the Tour de France later in the year. It is his fourth race of 2019 after kicking off his campaign at the Tour du Haut Var at the end of February, where he finished second overall. He has finished in the top 10 in all but one of his race days so far and says that he's feeling strong, but is reticent to make any predictions about what that could mean over the coming week.
"This is when we will see if the work put in during winter pays off. I am not worried because physically, I feel that I am at a good level. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a result," Bardet told the Le Tour website.
"I see the season as a linear progression just until the Tour de France. And what I'm looking for in races like Paris-Nice are moments when I'm taking a new step forward. I realise that with Paris-Nice, the story is still to be written. Up until now, my best memory is the Brioude stage when in my second year as a professional, in 2013. On that day I was the protagonist of the race, that Andrew Talansky won. But as the French calendar is very important to me, I want to shine at Paris-Nice before the end of my career."
Bardet has ridden Paris-Nice five times during his career – including last year's short appearance – with his best result ninth overall back in 2016. Bardet admits that it's a race he’s not quite perfected, saying that the fewer mountain stages work against him.
"It's a race I've never managed to handle properly, so I'm going with a lot of caution. I never know what to expect," he explained. "The format suits me a little less than that of the Dauphiné, for example. There are one or two hard stages on Paris-Nice, versus four on the Dauphiné. I am a rider who loves the heat and I feel stronger when after I have put in a good amount of racing. In Paris-Nice, up until now, I have never managed to find this level of performance, but we'll see if I get there this year.”
If Bardet has hopes of performing well at this year's Paris-Nice, he will have to tackle the 25km stage time trial. The chrono has never been a particular speciality for Bardet and it is likely to give him plenty of work for the mountain stages in the latter part of the race. The summit finish on the Col de Turini, which played host to the Monte Carlo Rally in January, will be an opportunity to make some time back.
"The Turini is a rather long ascension, but I don't think it is tailor-made for the pure climbers. It is quite consistent, conducive to an elevated and very linear pace," said Bardet. "It is a nice climb, but there are not many gradient changes. It will be a 40-minute climb, in the month of March, which could be interesting. There will also be a quite significant time trial compared to the difficulties in the mountains and that does not work in my favour. And among those who will race for the general classification, I think that I am one of the few that has not yet ridden in a time trial this season. I will be very serious and committed."
AG2R La Mondiale will also send Tony Gallopin to Paris-Nice as a general classification hopeful. The team will be completed by Benoit Cosnefroy, Oliver Naesen, Mikael Cherel, Stijn Vandenbergh and Mathias Frank. The race will begin in Saint-Germain-en-Laye this Sunday.