Romain Bardet will skip the French national championships next weekend in order to be at his best for the Tour de France, with the AG2R La Mondiale team naming six of the seven riders who will support his bid for the yellow jersey.
Bardet, who finished on the podium at the Tour in 2016 and 2017, has had a subdued season so far and expressed his disappointment at finishing 10th at the Critérium du Dauphiné and 2nd at the Mont Ventoux Challenge in the past week.
This week he decided not to compete in the French national road race championship on June 30, calling it a 'rational decision' based on his preparation for the Tour, which begins in Brussels on July 6.
This year's French nationals road race will take place near Nantes in north west France, with 15 laps of the 16.8km circuit used in the Classic Loire Atlantique. While the circuit can be selective, it is not hilly enough for Bardet to entertain any real hope of success.
"I'm very attached to French cycling and its values but this decision is the most rational in terms of my preparation for the Tour de France," he said. "I understand the importance of the presence of our country's best riders to the organisers and the public. I'm very serious about competing in races on the national calendar and wearing the national jersey each time I have the honour of being selected.
"However, I have to take advantage of every day that leads to the Tour in order to carry out my final training sessions in the mountains, and the geographical distance and the parcours of the 2019 nationals would deprive me of those important moments."
Bardet was named as the leader of AG2R La Mondiale on Thursday as the French team revealed seven of the eight riders who will take to the start in Brussels. The final rider will be decided upon after the national road race.
Pierre Latour will provide key support and will also keep his own ambitions in mind, having finished 13th at last year's Tour with the white jersey. The 25-year-old hasn't had ideal preparation after missing nearly four months with broken wrists, but is currently competing at the Tour de Suisse.
Tony Gallopin will be one of Bardet's key lieutenants, having shredded the peloton for him on Mont Ventoux on Monday. The Frenchman rode the Giro d'Italia but a knee problem meant he left the race before the mountainous final week and should be relatively fresh. Mickael Cherel is a trusted ally of Bardet's, helping to set up his 2016 stage win and overall podium finish, and returns to the Tour squad after a year away. Further support in the mountains comes from Swiss climber Mathias Frank.
On the flat, Oliver Naesen will be Bardet's "fortress", according to the team. The Belgian Classics specialist will again be relied upon to protect his leader should crosswinds strike.
Finally, former U23 world champion Benoit Cosnefroy is handed his Tour de France - and indeed Grand Tour - debut. The 23-year-old has won Paris-Camembert and the GP de Plumelec this year and team management see him as a future star of the team.
There's a tricky decision over the final rider, with Silvan Dilier and Axel Domont both injured. Alexandre Geniez seems the most likely and, with the final decision to be taken after the French national road race, the other riders in the frame would appear to be breakaway specialist Alexis Gougeard, sprinter Clement Venturini, or even climber Alexis Vuillermoz, who rode the Giro and finished 29th.
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