With the 2018 Tour de France route including a tough ninth stage featuring 15 sectors of cobbles, a few of the GC contenders might be tempted to head to Paris-Roubaix, or at least some of the Flemish Classics, to get a taste of racing on the brutal pavé.
However Romain Bardet will not be among them, as the third place finisher from the 2017 race looks to prepare with another race that will see him rubbing shoulders with the Classics specialists, but not have to face the cobblestones themselves.
“Strade Bianche is a race that makes me dream,” the Ag2r La Mondiale star told French newspaper Le Monde as he embarked on a pre-season team camp in Oisans, near the base of Alpe d’Huez.
“The team knows that I’m anxious about the Classics, so they’ve let me follow my primary instinct, which is to rub shoulders with the Classics riders [at Strade Bianche] while also minimising the risks.”
With its gravel roads and spectacular scenery, Strade Bianche has found a place in the hearts of Classics fans since it was first run in 2008, but compared to the flat roads and brutally rough cobbles that the Tour de France riders will face on July 15, it is a very different test.
However despite the differences, Bardet’s coach Jean-Baptiste Quiclet insists that using the race as preparation is about much more than learning to deal with different road surfaces.
“[Stage nine] will be the hardest stage of the Tour,” he said. “Strade Bianche is getting closer to a race on cobblestones. We can see the sort of moves in the peloton that are only found there and in Paris-Roubaix.”
Watch: How to ride on cobbles
In previous years when the Tour de France has tackled the cobbles (most recently in 2014 and 2015), Movistar have sent Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to cobbled races such as Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke, although no big-name GC riders have been tempted to take on the Hell of the North itself for a number of years.
For his part, Bardet says that he would like to experience Paris-Roubaix at some point in the future, but says that now is not the time as he concentrates on his general classification hopes in the prime of his career.
“I would love to do it, but very honestly, it seems very complicated considering the risks for the rest of my season,” the 27-year-old continued. “I would like to ride it one day but I am aware of my qualities on a bike, which are in stage races, and I do not want to jeopardise the team like that.”
The Frenchman also revealed that the first half of his season will follow a similar course to 2017, starting with either the Tour of Oman or the Ruta del Sol in February. He will then likely miss Paris-Nice to ride Strade Bianche, before travelling to the Tour of the Basque Country and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and completing his preparation for the Tour de France at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.
Bardet finished third in the 2017 Tour de France, 2-20 behind the yellow jersey of Chris Froome and just one second ahead of Mikel Landa, but will be relieved to see even less time trialling in the 2018 race having lost most of his time to Froome on the penultimate stage’s time trial around the streets of Marseille.