Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) will line up for Paris-Nice in Plaisir, near the French capital, on Sunday, as an alternative to the cancelled Italian one-day race Strade Bianche and next week's all-but-cancelled Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, knowing that he needs to race to try to be at his best for his goals later in the season.
"The decision by the general management of AG2R La Mondiale not to participate in the Italian races is the most responsible in view of the events of the past few weeks because we must all be very vigilant and concerned by the international health situation," Bardet said of the ongoing coronavirus crisis on his team's website on Thursday.
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"I would have liked to have participated in those two Italian races, both of which I very much enjoy, but I will compete at Paris-Nice with equal pleasure, and for the sixth time in my career," he said.
'My recent performances are encouraging for the rest of the season'
Like the situation facing many of his colleagues on other teams, Bardet knows that the cancellation of Saturday's Strade Bianche and the likely cancellation of Tirreno and Milan-San Remo (March 21) combine to make Paris-Nice a relatively vital stepping stone for later success in the season, although some teams – including Team Ineos and Astana – have chosen to skip the French race as well as the Italian events in the hope of picking up where they left off at races later this month.
Bardet started his season steadily at the Tour Down Under in Australia, and went on to place second overall at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var and 13th at last weekend's Drôme Classic, but personal circumstances have also meant that he's still not yet in the full swing of his season.
"We will definitely have an ambitious team at Paris-Nice," Bardet continued. "Having taken fifth place overall in 2019 helped to reconcile me with this race where I had not always found a lot of success.
"I certainly don't have the same level of form, nor the same preparation, as I had last year, largely due to the last two hectic weeks with the birth of my son," he said, "but my most recent performances are encouraging for the rest of the season.
"I will certainly go with the deep intention of working for the overall success of the team, which is going with a lot of riders who can shine," said Bardet.
"Romain needs to race to prepare for his later goals," AG2R boss Vincent Lavenu told L'Equipe on Thursday. "Everything suggests that the [other Italian] races will be cancelled, but they haven't yet been confirmed."
A 'mini Tour de France'
Paris-Nice – often thought of as a 'mini Tour de France' – has rapidly turned into somewhat of a dress rehearsal for this summer's main event as star names flock to ride it now that the overlapping Tirreno-Adriatico is looking very likely to be cancelled.
Along with Bardet, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), along with sprinters Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) are all set to take part.
Only the absence of Team Ineos, UAE Team Emirates, Astana, CCC Team and Mitchelton-Scott – teams that have chosen to pull out of all of the Italian spring races and Paris-Nice – prevents fans from next week being able to watch all of the same riders they're likely to see at La Grande Boucle in June/July battle it out.
AG2R La Mondiale for the 2020 Paris-Nice: Romain Bardet, Mikael Cherel, Benoit Cosnefroy, Alexis Gougeard, Pierre Latour, Oliver Naesen, Aurelien Paret-Peintre, Nans Peters
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