Ag2r La Mondiale have announced their squad for the upcoming Tour de France, where they will be looking to help Romain Bardet deliver France’s first victory in their home Grand Tour since Bernhard Hinault in 1985.
The Frenchman has finished on the podium twice in his career, coming second to Chris Froome in 2016 and third the following year.
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Preparing for this year’s edition, Bardet rode to a top 10 finish at the 2019 Criterium du Dauphiné, before racing again the very next day in the new Mont Ventoux one-day race.
Despite being heavy favourite and setting out to dominate the race as part of one of only four WorldTour teams competing, Jesús Herrada made light work of the Frenchman to take the win. The Spaniard came to the race with fresh legs, which undoubtedly helped him to climb past Bardet in the final few hundred metres after the pair broke away from the pack near the bottom of the climb.
However, Bardet has been given a boost to his Tour de France ambitions with Chris Froome (Ineos) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) not travelling to Brussels for the Grand Départ on July 6.
Froome is still not well enough to return home from a horrific crash that saw him placed in intensive care at the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Dumoulin is still struggling with a knee injury that he picked up in a crash at the same race.
Meanwhile, last year’s fourth-placed rider Primož Roglič will not be taking part after Jumbo-Visma chose Steven Kruijswijk as team leader, and Geraint Thomas’ (Ineos) defence of his title has been under the microscope by a crash that saw him abandon the Tour de Suisse.
Bardet is also set to miss next week’s French national championships as he continues to prepare for the Tour, a decision that has also been made by his compatriot Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick Step).
One of Bardet’s strongest domestiques will be Tony Gallopin, who will be riding his ninth Tour de France, the Frenchman’s second with Ag2r after joining at the start of the 2018 season.
Pierre Latour, whose name is nearly the most perfect example of nominative determinism in the professional peloton, finished 13th last year and took the white jersey of the young rider’s classification. The 25-year-old will be looking to improve on that result this year and will assist Bardet in the mountains.
Oliver Naesen will provide power on the flats, the Belgian coming close to his first Monument win in March with a second place at Milan – San Remo behind Julian Alaphilippe.
The rest of the eight-man squad will be made up of Mikaël Cherel, Benoît Cosnefroy, and Mathias Frank, with the final name set to be announced after the French national championships, which take place on June 30.
Multiple Tour de France stage winner Thomas Voeckler said earlier this year “if you don’t believe Bardet or Thibaut Pinot can win the Tour de France, you don’t believe in anything”, adding that this year’s parcours particularly suit the two Frenchmen and they stand as good a chance as the other GC contenders.
Vincent Lavenu, general manager of Ag2r, has spoken of the need for his French outfit to deliver a good performance to a home audience that hasn’t seen French success in the overall classification for 34 years.
“We must live up to the expectations of the public, the media and partners who like to see the French teams shine,” Lavenu said. “We approach the Tour de France with the necessary humility of such a big race, but also with ambition and seriousness to be able to effect the race at all times. We hope to have more success than in 2018. Last year, after only a few days, we lost three riders who were forced to abandon.”