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Bardet hopes ‘alternative’ calendar delivers some wins

Bardet looks to find inspiration and get back to winning ways with new targets including Ardennes, Giro, and Olympics.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Alternative calendars are all the rage these days. For Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), that doesn’t mean gravel or off-road endurance races in 2020.

Instead, if you’re a French star like Bardet, deciding to skip the Tour de France in favor of the Giro d’Italia is as alternative as it gets.

“I decided to try something different this year,” Bardet said Monday. “I’ve always loved the Giro. And with the Olympics coming right after the Tour, I thought this year was my best chance.”

Bardet’s decision to skip the Tour in 2020 created a stir back in France. After the 2019 Tour saw French riders come as close to winning yellow in a generation, French hopes are sky-high that its long-running yellow jersey drought could be coming to an end.

If it does, it won’t be Bardet who becomes the first French rider to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

As Bardet closes in on 30, the Ag2r-La Mondiale rider is at a career crossroads. After finishing second in 2016 and third in 2017, many expected Bardet to continue the progression to the top step on the podium. Yet two subsequent Julys have seen Bardet leave the Tour bitter and disappointed, so much so that he huddled with team management to map out a new approach.

After coming close in other races, including second place in the 2018 world championships and winning the King of the Mountains jersey last summer, Bardet looked to new targets for inspiration.

“Last year I was already thinking about the Giro,” Bardet said Monday during a chat with Matt Keenan. “I tried many times with the yellow jersey, and it didn’t go so well the past two years. So I hope to make a good Giro.”

The Giro delivers an interesting course for Bardet. Three time trials are not in his favor, but a heavy third week should see him still in the running for a podium spot. It’s almost been as long as the Tour since a Frenchman won the Giro, with Laurent Fignon winning in 1989.

By detouring around the Tour in 2020, Bardet will search out new challenges. Along with the Giro, he is putting a new-found focus on the Ardennes, the world championships and a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the Olympic gold medal on a climber-friendly route in Tokyo.

“It was good to try something else last year,” Bardet said of his King of the Mountains success in the 2019 Tour. “I would like to try to win a monument. And with the Olympics, it’s a special chance. I am excited about some new goals.”

To set himself up for his fresh start, Bardet came down to Australia a few weeks ago. He rented a house and has been visiting Sydney, hitting the beach and soaking up the sun in between training sessions to prepare for a big season. He downplayed his chances for the Santos Tour Down Under, which starts Tuesday, but hopes to be hitting winning form in time for races like Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico — which means no Paris-Nice — and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

And this “alternative” calendar will inevitably lead him back to the Tour.

“I’d like to win one grand tour in my career,” he said. “I hope to do something nice [this season], and then return to the Tour with big ambitions.”