It’s been so long since a Frenchman won the Tour de France that perhaps France has forgotten what it’s like.
Romain Bardet remains the host country’s best chance for its first yellow jersey in three decades. Ag2r La Mondiale is backing him 100 percent.
The French outfit is the first major team to confirm its “Tour Eight” ahead of the July 7 start in the Vendée. There were not many surprises: six of the eight are French, and it’s all in to help Bardet win.
“Our group is even stronger than last year with a charismatic leader who is gaining momentum within the hierarchy, and aiming to shine at the highest level,” said Ag2r boss Vincent Lavenu. “We will remain humble and realistic because the competition is very strong. We are going to approach the Tour with legitimate ambitions.”
The French WorldTour team is not bringing a sprinter or a “Plan B.” Or, better said, its only plan is “B” — as in Bardet.
Second in 2016 and third last year, Bardet is France’s best chance for yellow in a generation. The aggressive and iconoclastic 27-year-old is aiming for nothing short of victory.
“[Bardet] is our leader who shines in the biggest races of the world and we have real ambitions,” Lavenu continued. “He works hard and has reached a new level. The competition will be tough, but we can consider to be among the best with him.”
The team is built around two goals: protecting Bardet in the first half of the Tour with some brawn in the form of classics specialists Oliver Naesen and Paris-Roubaix runner-up Silvan Dillier. And second, in the high mountains, with Alexander Geniez, Pierre Latour, and Alexis Vuillermoz. Tour rookie Axel Domont and veteran Tony Gallopin round out the team.
The former is likely a bigger challenge than the latter. With stage wins in the mountains in the past three editions of the Tour, Bardet is a confirmed performer across the high mountains of France. The major question mark for Ag2r will be pushing Bardet through the first nine stages with his GC ambitions fully intact.
The team time trial in stage 3 and the cobblestones featured in stage 9 are undeniably the highest hurdles for Bardet to surpass before reaching the foot of the Alps on the Tour’s first rest day.
That’s why Lavenu is bringing the likes of Naesen, who is back for his second Tour start, and Swiss rider Dillier.
“[Dillier] was recruited to bring his physical strength to the flat stages and his qualities on the cobblestones,” Lavenu said. “He will have a very important role during the first 10 days, especially in the team time trial. His power will be invaluable.”