There is a week of the Tour de France remaining, but Romain Bardet's thoughts are already slowly turning to 2020. It's been that kind of a Tour and that kind of a season for the Frenchman, who lies 19th overall, almost half an hour down on maillot jaune Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Speaking during Monday's second rest day in Nîmes, Bardet admitted to a certain "lassitude" after following more or less the same racing programme since making his Tour debut in 2013. He confirmed that he will make changes to his calendar next season but said that he had not yet decided whether such alterations would involve missing the Tour altogether.
"For the past six years, I've pretty much had the same programme," Bardet said, according to L'Équipe. "Next year, I will change my programme. That's 100 per cent certain. There is too much déjà-vu, it's too rational. And that's not cycling. I don't like to call it a comfort zone because I know only too well the efforts that I make every day to perform well, but yes, there is a weariness."
Bardet's Tour began on a subdued note when his AG2R La Mondiale squad struggled in the Brussels team time trial, and he proceeded to lose ground on his GC rivals on the first summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6.
That evening, Bardet reportedly told his teammates that he was "ashamed" of his performance, but he struck a defiant note when he attacked on the run-in to his hometown of Brioude three days later. Bardet's podium challenge suffered a further setback in the Pau time trial on Friday, and it unravelled altogether when he was dropped by the yellow jersey group on the Col du Soulor the following afternoon.
"I knew that I didn't have the legs to win, and I was already four minutes down on GC. What purpose would it have served if I had tried to hang on?" Bardet said of an afternoon where he ultimately lost more than 20 minutes.
On Sunday, Bardet availed of his exit from the podium battle to enter the early break on the road to Prat d'Albis. He led the race over the Pont de Lers but was unable to follow the stage winning move on the Mur de Péguère.
"I don't want to finish 13th or 8th on the Tour de France, that doesn't interest me," said Bardet, who placed on the podium in 2016 and 2017. "I want to taste other things. Yesterday, I took crazy pleasure from being in the break for 70km. I needed to that. For a long time, I had been conditioned to do the same thing. There comes a point where you need to reinvent yourself."
Bardet vowed to go on the offensive once again when the Tour enters the Alps in the coming days, and he can perhaps take heart from how he reignited his race in 2015 with victory at Pra Loup in the third week. Whatever way this Tour finishes, however, Bardet said that he will need to make significant changes in 2020.
"I can't go on like nothing happened. You need to be realistic and lucid. I wasn't at the rendezvous, I ran aground," Bardet said. "I don't want to stick my head in the sand, that's not me. It would be a lie to say that it's only a small snag: it's a failure. That's how it is. You need to look at the truth and understand why."
Bardet tipped his contemporary and fellow countryman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) to become the first French Tour winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Meanwhile, he admitted to Le Parisien that he had been concerned that he would be jeered by supporters after being dropped ahead of the Tourmalet on Saturday.
"I was so afraid that I would be booed," Bardet said. "Hearing 'we love you' did me good and helped me. Since the start of the race, I've only had one worry. At the start of one stage, a guy shouted, 'Romain, move your ass!' I did a U-turn to ask for an explanation. He thought he was on social media. There was a crowd of people, and this gentleman was embarrassed."