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If it appeared that Romain Bardet disappeared this spring, you’re right.
The highly touted French climber returned to racing this week at the Critérium du Dauphiné after a spring break atypical among professional cyclists. Along with training, including nearly two weeks at altitude in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, the Ag2r La Mondiale rider is also working on a master’s degree.
“I am studying management at the Grenoble Business School and, as part of my master’s degree, I did a work placement in public relations for the AS Montferrand rugby club,” Bardet said. “It was an interesting experience because I discovered new professional responsibilities.”
As one of France’s most promising climbers in a generation, the 25-year-old has been mixing studies with his professional racing career since 2012. So far, the balance seems to be working pretty well. He schedules blocks of training and studying around a very busy racing schedule that included a stage victory at the 2015 Tour de France.
This week, he’s leaving behind the books to hunt for a stage victory at the Dauphiné as he takes on riders he will race against in July’s Tour. Bardet took confidence out of his seventh-place result in Sunday’s opening climbing prologue at 29 seconds behind race leader Alberto Contador of Tinkoff.
“I am happy with my result because I haven’t raced since the spring,” he said. “I am feeling good on the bike, and the goal this week is to improve my form and win a stage.”
Bardet is winless so far in 2016, with a handful of top 10s, including second overall at the Tour of Oman, ninth at Paris-Nice, and sixth at Volta a Catalunya. In last year’s Dauphiné, he took a stage victory at Pra-Loup and then took his first Tour stage win at St-Jean-de-Maurienne a few weeks later.
Bardet is hoping history repeats itself. He has two more transition stages ahead of him before the Dauphiné concludes with three hard days in the Alps this weekend.
“I hope to build momentum out of the Dauphiné for the Tour. That’s worked well in other years, and I hope the same thing happens this year,” Bardet told L’Equipe. “I don’t want to get too wrapped up on how I will do in the GC, because nothing can replace the excitement that comes with a stage victory. That’s my top goal this week.”
Bardet was sixth overall in his second Tour de France in 2014, and confirmed his promise with a stage victory and ninth overall last year, finishing second in the best young rider’s category each year. Bardet is hoping for more of the same this summer, and then it’s back to the books.