Romain Bardet is putting his Tour de France destiny into the hands of his Ag2r-La Mondiale teammates ahead of Sunday’s clash on the cobbles.
The birdlike climber is the antithesis of a northern classics rider, and Bardet admits he will feel like a fish out of water in the decisive stage 9.
“I’ve never done the cobbled classics,” Bardet said. “I’ve got to put my faith in my teammates who have experience of the pavé, the guys who really relish that kind of battle.”
Bardet can count on some brawn inside the Ag2r bus to help him push across the pavé. It will be interesting to see if Paris-Roubaix runner-up Silvian Dillier and Oliver Naesen give up their chances for the stage victory or be held in check to help Bardet. The French team will certainly want to try to keep their podium contender protected as much as possible, but a run at a stage win might be tempting as well.
Even if Bardet has a top-level escort for the stage, he knows it will be up to him to make it to Roubaix
“That doesn’t provide me with any guarantees,” he said. “You have to fight to be near the front going into each sector. There can be crashes, you can get blocked, it’s very complicated for everybody.”
Bardet raced the Dwars door Vlaanderen this spring to get a reminder of what the cobblestones feel like at race speed. In 2014, when the Tour raced across the pavé in wet conditions, Bardet did OK. He finished in a group that included Tom Dumoulin and Alejandro Valverde at 2:28 back. In 2015, when the cobbles were raced in dry conditions, he survived the day in the main GC group of favorites at just three seconds behind solo winner Tony Martin.
“Sunday is a big day. You can lose the Tour tomorrow,” said Ag2r boss Vincent Lavenu. “Romain is not bad on the pavé, and we will have a strong team around him. We have a sense of uncertainty before the stage, but so does everyone else.”
The French climber, now 22nd at 1:49 back, doesn’t want to see his podium aspirations implode on the pavé. Second overall in 2016 and third last year, Bardet has had a rough first week. But so has nearly every other GC contender, so the big goal Sunday is to survive to Roubaix without losing so much time that the rest of the Tour turns into a stage-hunting exercise.
“You can feel the stress building already,” Bardet said. “I’m not afraid of the stage, but despite being flat it’s a day when there could be significant gaps.”