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Bardet — second at the 2018 Strade Bianche — expects the gravel roads of Tuscany will be just as decisive in the fight for the maglia rosa as one of the major mountain stages.
And he’s rubbing his hands in glee.
“I like to ride on strade bianche and, for sure, it will be one of the most interesting stages to watch and to ride,” Bardet said in a press conference Thursday. “For me, it is as important as some of the mountain stages because a lot can happen on this stage. For sure, it will be really exciting, and we will see a difference between the main contenders.”
Riding his 10th season as a professional, this year is Bardet’s first appearance at the corsa rosa. The calendar change comes following his high-profile exit from AG2R La Mondiale to join Team DSM over the winter.
Until now, Bardet spent his entire career with the French squad, meaning that the Tour de France – where he has twice finished on the podium – was the center of his cycling world.
An appearance at the 2017 Vuelta a España is his sole deviation from that script.
A new adventure
After so many years with one major goal, Bardet is looking forward to expanding his repertoire at a race that, arguably, suits him far better than his national grand tour.
“It feels like a new adventure, it is not usual for me to prepare for a grand tour so early in the season but it’s no secret that I really wanted to ride the Giro d’Italia one day,” Bardet said. “It’s part of my new challenge with DSM to be good at the Giro. For me, I turned 30 last year and it’s like a new beginning for me to be able to try to race at my best at a new grand tour.
“I’m curious to see how the other riders do the Giro because we can see the gaps between the big riders can vary a lot from day to day, much more than in the Tour. I think it is much more open racing here, which suits me better than the Tour.
“On paper, the Giro looks even more demanding, in terms of physicality, than the Tour so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Something else that will be new for Bardet is sharing the leadership role with another rider.
In the past, the 30-year-old has shouldered the pressure of the entire team on his shoulders – a particularly tough task when you also carry the weight of expectation of a whole nation.
This year, he will ride as co-leader for Team DSM with Jai Hindley, the Australian rider who finished second overall at the 2020 Giro d’Italia. The pair has only ridden together once at the Tour of the Alps, which didn’t last long after Hindley was forced to abandon thanks to splitting his knee open in a crash.
Nevertheless, the pair has built a good bond in the last few months and Bardet is looking forward to sharing the burden of leadership.
“I have a really good relationship with Jai, and I’m pleased to be alongside him on the team,” Bardet said. “Last year he was really strong in the Giro and he has all the cards in his hands to do the same this year. We also have a big will to be close to the top of the Giro and help each other to achieve the best possible result.
“It’s a strength for our team to have Jai and me to fight for the best possible spot in the general classification. I think at a Grand Tour like the Giro it’s really good to have two cards to play.”