There was a time when Romain Bardet would have been among those with the shortest odds to win the Tour de France.
He was the home nation's chosen champion, after all. In 2016, the then 25-year-old finished second to Chris Froome, before going on to round out the podium the following year. At the roadside, crowds roared him on as the man to end a three-decade spell without a French winner.
“It’s becoming a bit of a game,” the Frenchman told a select group of media, including Cycling Weekly, at Team DSM’s season launch on Tuesday. “I had more pressure before because I knew I could have maybe been the best at some point. I was stepping up year by year at the Tour.
“Now, it’s obvious that I won’t be the best guy, or amongst the two, three or four best favourites. That keeps me really pushing all the way in terms of tactics and also in training before to really raise my level to try to match the young guys.”
This year will mark Bardet’s tenth assault on his home Grand Tour. After abandoning a promising Giro d’Italia campaign with illness last season, the Frenchman finished sixth at the Tour, but hopes for better this time round.
“I know already some guys are faster and stronger than me,” he said. “But you never know in the Tour. Despite two really shit days last year, I was still competing in the fight for a long time for the podium. I hope to be in the same place next year, with some better legs.”
After last year’s edition, Bardet revealed he took inspiration from 2018 yellow jersey winner Geraint Thomas, who rode his way onto the race's third step at 36 years old.
“His performance was really brilliant,” Bardet said of the Ineos Grenadiers rider, who grappled with riders ten years his junior throughout the three-week race. “For a guy who already won the Tour, to really fight when the other two guys [Pogačar and Vingegaard] went and almost get dropped every time, he was the last survivor of the fight.
“It was a really inspiring performance to see,” the Frenchman continued. “I think he has shown that even at 36 he can still reach his best. I think he was probably even better than when he won the Tour.”
Could Bardet, also in his thirties, follow in the Welshman’s footsteps this July? “I don’t want to set particular results that I have to go for,” he replied elusively. “I just want to have a good, smooth preparation and be able to give it a go.
“I’m still, I think, a GC rider and I work for that all year round,” Bardet added. “If I finish 6th or 7th or 8th and I’ve done everything I can, I will be happy with that.”
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1