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Once in a lifetime: Romain Bardet dreams of Tour de France glory

Joe Robinson
4 Jul 2019

Speaking ahead the Tour, Bardet looks ahead to the chance of France's first Tour de France winner since 1985

Romain Bardet could be about to end 34 years of French cycling hurt. Or, at least, it seems as if this year could be a ‘once in a career opportunity’, according to the AG2R-La Mondiale team leader.

No Frenchman has been closer to returning the Tour de France's yellow jersey to its home since the reign of Bernard Hinault ended in 1986, than when Bardet finished second in 2016, albeit four minutes adrift of eventual winner Chris Froome.

Naturally, like any year, the expectation from those watching on at home is high. French fans have been dreaming that each year could be the first since Bernard Hinault’s last Tour victory in 1985 that the yellow jersey will be returned to its rightful owners.

But this year, it seems as if this fading hope could become a reality. Many are calling this the most open Tour de France in a decade.

Four-time champion Froome is at home injured, as is last year’s runner-up Tom Dumoulin. Defending champion Geraint Thomas is failing to repeat the form of 12 months previous and the current race favourites are a man who has only once broken the Tour’s top 10 and a 22-year-old riding his second Tour.

The expectation of France can be considered a burden by some

Mixed in with the fact that the last week of this year’s Tour will be one of the hardest in history, it's become clear that the race’s winner could be whoever is most willing to grab the race by the scruff of the neck.

That is allowing the courageous and aggressive, like Bardet, to dream about what could be. Typically of Bardet, he is also happy to remain philosophical despite the pressure.

‘There is always lots of pressure. As a Frenchman, there is this big expectation for you to perform because of this long wait since Hinault’s last win,’ Bardet admitted.

‘I always try my best with this expectation and pressure but, honestly, I think it is a good thing for me and a good thing for the French public that we have this expectation of victory.’

Getting in the way of this expectation for the past seven years has been the British squad Team Sky/Ineos, who have wholly dominated racing around France – six of the last seven yellow jerseys have landed on the backs of riders from across the channel.

It’s a dominance that has not sat well with the French public, uneased not only by the dominance of riders like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas but the manner in which it has taken place and the recent controversies along the way.

But there’s a genuine expectation among the local press and public that this dominance could be about to end, even if only temporarily for this year’s Tour and that in a race full of underdogs and no favourites, this could be the year for Bardet.

Bardet, however, is guarded in his optimism when talking to the press. He was keen to declare that there are at least 10 riders capable of winning the race, and even cites Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang as the ‘strongest rider of the season so far’. However, he has no illusions that Team Ineos are still the team to beat.

‘In spite of Froome’s absence, I have no doubt that Ineos will still have the strength to control the race,’ said Bardet.

‘We saw that at the Dauphine, even after Froome crashed and left, they still managed to control the peloton in the mountains.’

Bardet is no stranger to attacking the race when it's at its hardest

For Bardet, there is no secret as to where he believes the race will be won or lost. While he appreciates a challenging first week - including its Stage 2 team time trial - will dictate how the race is managed, Bardet knows it is the final week of racing where this race will be decided.

Travelling across the French Alps, the peloton will break the 2,000m barrier on seven occasions, where the air is thinner, the racing is more decisive, and the time gaps are more catastrophic.

It will be on the ascents of the Col de Vars, Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier, Col de l’Iseran and Val Thorens where the story of 2019 will be written, which Bardet knows all too well.

‘I have been reconning the final stages in the Alps and this will be the hardest third week I’ve ever seen,’ said Bardet.

‘The altitude increases fatigue, it will make racing harder and there will be big time gaps but I have been training at altitude for this and I am ready.

‘I am actually a fan of this route because I can see a lot of opportunities in the mountains to attack. I have three weeks to race at my top level.’

The world of French cycling will be watching on with great anticipation.