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Tour de France

Romain Bardet on 2023 Tour de France: ‘The most difficult first week that ever existed’

'It's a super exciting course': French climber hails 2023 Tour's mountain-packed opening phase and the return of Puy de Dôme.

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Romain Bardet sees a brutal opening phase of the 2023 Tour de France, and he likes it.

Team DSM captain Bardet hailed race organizer ASO and its explosive, climb-laden opening week of next year’s Tour when he spoke with L’Equipe on Thursday.

“It’s a super exciting course. I’m really surprised by the ingenuity of ASO and how they manage to think outside the box. It’s an unprecedented look, I’ve never seen it, so little time traling and such a difficult start,” Bardet told L’Equipe.

ASO lifted the curtain on its 2023 Tour de France on Thursday in what has become one of the most hotly hyped of the pro cycling season.

A puncheur’s delight of an opening in the Basque Country makes way for a venture into the mountains as early as stage 5, with a trip over the Tourmalet and a summit finish atop Cautarets-Cambasque on tap by stage 6.

Throw in the return of the mythical Puy de Dôme climb for the first time since 1988, and next year’s Tour will be one to tune in for from the start.

“The Pyrénées right away, the Puy de Dôme at the end of the first week … it’s the most difficult first week of a grand tour that has ever existed,” Bardet enthused. “The hierarchy will already be clear after nine stages.”

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Two-time champion Tadej Pogačar likewise relished ASO’s climb-heavy course Thursday, saying “the first week is already hard, and the third week is really hard.”

The Slovenian will line up as the top favorite alongside defending champion Jonas Vingegaard, while Bardet will headline French hopes.

The 31-year-old hit top gear again since joining DSM last year and will go well on a course light on TTs. His countryman Thibaut Pinot is mulling missing his home Tour, leaving David Gaudu the home nation’s next-best hope behind Bardet.

Bardet: Puy de Dome will be ‘crazy, magical’

Bardet carries some local advantage into the iconic showstopper of the Tour’s opening phase, the stage 9 summit finish atop the dormant Puy de Dôme volcano.

The Auvergne ascent saw some of the most mythical battles of Tour lore before a rack railway toward the 1,500m summit was built and the road was shut to traffic and cyclists in 2012.

Hailing from the nearby Brioude, Bardet has seen the talking point of Christian Prudhomme’s 2023 Tour closer than some.

“It’s my heart’s pass, ‘the lighthouse’ as we call it back home. Since the introduction of the railway, the road is completely closed: it has become a narrow service road that does not allow bikes and cars to pass. The ban is unconditional. Access is only open one morning a year, from 7am to 9am, and a TT (the Trophée des Grimpeurs) took place there last September, I was there with my father,” Bardet told l’Equipe.

“It’s going to be crazy, magical. To be honest, I’m having a little trouble realizing it. I never thought I could experience that in my career.”