By his own admission, and despite a highly impressive start to the season, Romain Bardet is at Tirreno-Adriatico to 'learn' and possibly target the one summit finish the Italian race offers. The Frenchman, who won the Classic de l'Ardèche Rhône Crussol in February, and finished second in Strade Bianche at the start of March, conceded around a minute to his potential GC rivals in the Tirreno TTT on Wednesday.
"It's my first stage race this season. A lot of riders here have been to races like Ruta del Sol, so the aim for me is to continue training, test myself in the final time trial and maybe take some pleasure on the climbs," he rather modestly told Cyclingnews as he warmed down on the rollers after Wednesday's effort.
Bardet chose Tirreno over Paris-Nice due to the Italian race's terrain. There will be a team time trial at the Tour de France in July, and his Achilles heel has always been racing against the clock. Despite strong showings - and a stage win - in the mountains at the Tour last year he almost lost his podium spot in the race's final TT – eventually holding off Mikel Landa for third by just one second.
"It's important for me. It's not my best quality. So we've worked hard not to lose too much time and it's the thing we need to work on now if we're not going to lose time in July because there are two time trials. That will make big gaps, so I came here to learn and then try and play my card in the summit race," he said.
Bardet missed Ruta del Sol due to what was described by his AG2R La Mondiale as a 'domestic incident' caused injury that left him with a cut to an arm and a slight muscle problem. Now back to full health, the climber is using Tirreno as his first stage race of the calendar year.
"I had a solid training block after my injury. I have the best feeling on the bike and I only had one day of racing in February. I feel fresh but the main goals for this season are much later. The strategy for here is to test myself because it's a difficult race and it's challenging for me."
Bardet also explained that Chris Froome, who is currently fighting to clear his name after an adverse analytical finding at the Vuelta a España last year is technically allowed to race Tirreno-Adriatico. There has been a backlash from several riders, who have suggested that Froome should take himself out of racing until his case has resolved. Due to the specific nature of the case, he is allowed to race until a resolution is reached. Barded, did, however, add that he would possibly remove himself from racing if he was in Froome's shoes.
"The rules are the rules and you can't reproach anyone for following the rules. Team Sky, Chris Froome is allowed to race in the regulations. There's no personal opinion here. It's not what I would do if it was my choice but you can't reproach someone for following the rules. It's maybe not the best choice but that's how it is. I would maybe stay back and let the procedures go through."
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