Romain Bardet says hopes the Tour Down Under will draw even more attention to the devastation caused by wildfires in Australia in recent months.
The French Grand Tour star has visited areas around Adelaide that have been deeply impacted by the environmental disaster that has swept across the nation.
Fires across Australia have resulted in the deaths of 28 people, including four firefighters, and 100,000 square kilometres are burning, with an enormous number of animals being killed in the blazes too.
Bardet will be making his debut in the Tour Down Under next week, as he has switched up his schedule for 2020 to reinvigorate his Grand Tour ambitions.
The 29-year-old said: “I’m happy to discover the Santos Tour Down Under, which is a popular event that is eagerly awaited here despite the environmental disaster that is affecting Australia today. I hope that the race will be in an additional lever in the solidarity movement emerging all around the globe to help the regions stricken by fire.”
Bardet has been out in Australia since December 28 with his team-mates Clément Chevrier, Axel Domont and Larry Warbasse, giving them the chance to acclimatise to summer conditions and the searing heatwaves Down Under.
Huge swathes of Australia have been ravaged by the fires, the worst seen in decades, since late July.
Minor road repairs were needed to ensure the Tour Down Under, which is based around Adelaide, could go ahead unhindered on January 21.
The organisers say they have been working with local authorities to ensure the race could be held safely.
Bardet will be riding the Tour Down Under for the first this year, having not raced since the final day of the Tour de France last July.
He has also changed up his off-season training, riding on the track and racing cyclocross having struggled to reach former heights in the Grand Tours in recent seasons.
Bardet will be skipping the Tour de France in favour of a Giro d’Italia debut this year.
He said: “I haven’t taken part in a race since July 28th when the Tour de France finished on the Champs Elysées. So I am particularly impatient to pin on the new bib number that will launch me into the 2020 season. I have been preparing for many months for this, and have mixed it up a bit by riding track and doing some cyclocross, which has helped in getting me out of my traditional winter pattern.
“On the sporting side, I have never before returned to racing so early in the year, but I think that these are the ideal conditions for a calm start to a great 2020 season, progressing day by day on short but hilly stages.”