Bardet cau­tiously op­ti­mistic

AG2R-La Mon­di­ale rider takes ‘mod­est ap­proach’ as he bids to be­come first French­man to win race since 1985

The National - News - Sport - - RUGBY UNION -

The Tour de France has not had a home cham­pion since 1985, but af­ter Ro­main Bardet’s sec­ond-placed fin­ish last year there are high hopes that the 26-yearold could be on the top step of the podium on the Champs El­y­sees in three weeks’ time. The AG2R-La Mon­di­ale rider is one of the most at­tack-minded in the pelo­ton and is likely to find this year’s route, which Bardet de­scribes as “quite treach­er­ous”, to his taste. With only four sum­mit fin­ishes, it favours lon­grange at­tacks and fea­tures only two short time tri­als.

This, he said, could throw the race wide open, but he is cer­tainly not get­ting car­ried away about his own chances.

“Any­thing is pos­si­ble – in one way or another,” said Bardet, who was also sixth over­all in 2014. “I take a very mod­est ap­proach, I will rely on my strengths and the fi­nal plac­ing does not mat­ter.”

The French­man has had a dif­fi­cult start to the sea­son, af­ter be­ing thrown out of the Paris-Nice stage race for tak­ing an il­le­gal tow from a team car.

That forced him to change his sched­ule and switch fo­cus to the Tour of Catalunya in­stead. He is adamant, how­ever, that it did not dis­rupt his prepa­ra­tions.

“It’s part of a high-level ath­lete’s life. It ac­tu­ally made me tougher, I chal­lenged my­self,” he said.

Bardet geared up nicely for the Tour that runs from to­mor­row un­til July 23 by fin­ish­ing sixth over­all in the Cri­terium du Dauphine ear­lier this month, show­ing great form in the moun­tains af­ter los­ing ground in the time trial. Bardet said the week-long warm-up of­fered few clues as to how he will get on in the Tour.

“I’m very well and very much look­ing for­ward to tak­ing part in my fifth Tour de France. I have been rest­ing and train­ing well since the Dauphine,” he said. “But things can change be­tween June and mid-July.”

Bardet said his team, with Swiss Mathias Frank, eighth over­all on the Tour in 2015, and France’s Pierre La­tour, who won a Vuelta stage last year, was the strong­est he has ever had around him.

He will, how­ever, be de­prived of the ser­vices of “do­mes­tique de luxe” and long-time friend Mikael Cherel, who suf­fered a hair­line frac­ture to his pelvis dur­ing a train­ing camp.

The duo launched a de­ci­sive at­tack on a wet de­scent in the Tour last year that put Bardet up to sec­ond over­all.

Bardet will be ex­pected to make a sim­i­lar move in the dan­ger­ous de­scent from the Mont du Chat this year, af­ter a pun­ish­ing climb to­wards the end of the ninth stage. The same de­scent fea­tured on the Dauphine route this year.

French cycling fans have high ex­pec­ta­tions of Bardet, who is among the favourites for over­all vic­tory. With Thibaut Pinot, who was third over­all in 2014, tar­get­ing stage wins af­ter a gru­elling Giro d’Italia, Bardet is the only re­al­is­tic hope of French suc­cess this time around.

But he is not feel­ing the pres­sure of at­tempt­ing to be­come France’s first Tour winner since Bernard Hin­ault 32 years ago.

“I don’t mind the pres­sure, I’ve had it since I started the Tour,” he said.

Jeff Pa­choud / AFP

A tar­pau­lin bear­ing colours of the French na­tional flag, draw­ings of cy­clists and read­ing Tour de France, in Dusseldorf, Germany, two days be­fore the Tour starts.

Chris­tian Hartmann / Reuters

Ro­main Bardet, right, is look­ing for­ward to his fifth Tour de France race when it starts to­mor­row.

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