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Ride like the pros: Romain Bardet

Romain Bardet wins Stage 18 of the 2015 Tour de France
BikesEtc
21 Feb 2017

This month our friends at BikesEtc study the pedalling prowess of one of France's best young cycling prospects

For the past 31 years, the Tour de France has been won by many countries – but not, alas, by the host nation.

Ever since the great Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault won it in 1985, French riders have fallen short. A recent crop of talented young Frenchmen is threatening to change all that, though, and among them is Romain Bardet.

Despite only being a professional for four years, the 26-year-old has already completed two Tours – in 2015 and 2016 – riding particularly impressively in the more mountainous stages of both races.

In fact, his attacking racing style won him the combativity award during his first ever Tour. This could just be the start, as Bardet is tipped by many to be a future winner of the hallowed yellow jersey.

Fact file

Name: Romain Bardet

Age: 26

Lives: Brioude, France

Rider Type: Climber

Professional Team: AG2R La Mondiale

Palmarés: Overall Winner Tour de L’Ain 2013; stage 5 winner Critérium du Dauphané 2015, stage 18 winner Tour de France 2015, Overall Combativity Award Tour de France 2015; Stage 19 winner Tour de France 2016; second overall Tour de France 2016; second overall Tour de Oman 2016, second overall Critérium du Dauphané 2016, second in Giro dell’Emilia 2016

Get angry

What? In 2015, Bardet showed his potential after storming to his first-ever Tour de France stage victory in a daring solo attack. After bridging a breakaway group he was determined to best his previous 3rd-place finish and rode onto a summit finish alone. Having just missed out his first stage victory a few days before, Bardet used his disappointment to spur him on. ‘To lose that stage frustrated me,’ he revealed. ‘Being angry helped me win today.’

How? Road rage is unavoidable sometimes but instead of losing the plot, use its energy to power your ride. Sports psychologists call this ‘Instrumental Aggression’. The idea is that by controlling your anger you can use it to be more assertive. You do this by establishing positive goals such as beating an opponent (in a race – not over the head with a track pump!) and using psychological skills to reach those goals. Visualisation, for example, gets you to create a series of images in your mind’s eye of you achieving your goal. Positive self-talk, meanwhile, sees you maintain a positive inner dialogue by banishing all negative words and phrases.

Use data but don't live by it

What? Team Sky’s dominance has shown that number crunching your data can help with marginal gains. However, for many pros this clinical approach kills the feel and vibrancy of cycling. Bardet uses the best of both worlds. He says, ‘It’s important for me in training to have a scientific approach, with tangible figures, to measure things like progression. But then, in the race, it’s important to work differently. It’s like a musician. They practice their scales at home, but during a performance use their inspiration and ideas to bring to fruition the work they’ve done.’

How? When training it’s great to pore over the numbers, but when it comes to riding in a race or timed event sometimes it’s better to just feel it out. After winning Stage 19 in last year’s Tour de France, Bardet put it down to ‘Vélo à l’instinct’. That’s the kind of riding you want to be doing. I’m not just chasing numbers, I’m chasing the feeling, the feeling of the best days,’ So while training by the numbers is obviously a great way to improve, so is remembering the reason why you got on a bike in the first place. Riding for the sheer joy of it clearly also aids performance.

Get a new bike

What? After Focus dropped their sponsorship of Bardet’s team AG2R La Mondiale, the French outfit sought out something a little different and settled on UK manufacturer Factor. The Brit bike makers have created what they call a ‘unique Twin Vane split down tube’ which sees the normal singular down tube split into two parallel tubes to boost aerodynamic efficiency. ‘I felt at ease and the gains are really obvious,’ Bardet says of his new bike. Backed by BF1 systems, an engineering company that’s worked for the likes of Ferrari and Maserati, Factor certainly offer something different – look out for the Factor One-S in 2017 races.

How? Every year produces a greater array of innovation in bike technology. Instead of sticking to the same old tubing, consider exploring the options. If the Factor One-S like the one Bardet rides is out of your price range (don’t expect change from £9k) consider something like the Ribble Aero 883 which also boasts an innovative frame that’s built for speed. Prices start at a more attainable £1,499. See ribblecycles.co.uk for details.

Work on your weaknesses

What? Being a fantastic climber and a determined rider will only get Bardet so far. One thing he still needs to perfect if he is to become one of the sport’s greats is his time trialling. The Frenchman recently enlisted the help of anti-doping advocate and former TT specialist David Millar, declaring, ‘David was a huge reference on time trials during his career and it will help me improve my skills in that particular discipline.’ After working with Bardet, Millar quipped, ‘Time trials are not something that he loves quite as much as me, but he’s always prepared to put the hard work in! ‘

How? Sometimes the best way to combat your weaknesses is to battle them head on. We asked our resident expert cycling coach Pav Bryan for his thoughts on the subject and he told us: ‘If you want to improve as a cyclist, work on the things you’re not good at – don’t just do the things you excel at. If you hate climbing hills then go and climb hills!’

Never stop learning

What? As well as being a Tour de France contender, Bardet is also a recent recipient of a postgraduate management diploma from the Grenoble School of Management, which he studied for in his spare time. Course tutors allowed Bardet to do much of his course away from the college so that he could carry on travelling the world and winning races. Not only has studying for the qualification given Bardet options should this cycling malarkey not work out for him, but it has also allowed him a healthy alternative psychological outlet. ‘My studies gave me a certain distance from my sport and allowed me to enjoy it more,’ he revealed. ‘They also really helped me look at cycling differently, affording me a much more linear approach to the sport.’

How? Stimulating the mind off the bike reaps benefits on it. Spending too much time repeatedly doing the same thing can lead to overtraining – a fatigue of both the body and the mind. It results in a kind of lethargic ennui that can last for months. So mix things up for your mind as well as your body. Learn a foreign language, a musical instrument or sign up for that evening class you’ve been promising to treat yourself to.

Play another sport

What? From skiing in the alps to being adept at doing keepy uppies, to shredding trails on his mountain bike, Bardet is a bit of an all-round athlete thanks to his competitive nature. A particular favourite of his is cross-country skiing in the off-season. ‘It goes without saying that it is really good for physical fitness, and the big advantage is the mobilisation of all the muscular chains necessary for good posture on the bike,’ he revealed. ‘In my opinion, it’s one of the best sports to physically prepare for the [cycling] season to come.’

How? OK, so we may not all be fortunate enough to live close enough to snow fields to make cross-country skiing a regular exercise option, but the idea of mixing it up still stands. As Bardet revealed, ‘I touch upon many different sports during the winter. ‘Skiing, of course, but also football, swimming and bodybuilding.’ Cross-country skiing, Nordic walking or using a cross-trainer in a gym, can all help build endurance, while improving upper body strength – something which rarely gets a work out if you’re constantly in the saddle. This is turn improves core strength which is vital for better balance and bike-handling skills.

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