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Mar 4, 2016 – Romain Bardet is building on a very impressive start to the season by heading to Paris–Nice at the helm of the Ag2r-La Mondiale squad. The versatile attacker is not shying away from the spotlight as one of the contenders to win Paris–Nice, which could be decided on the ascent to La Madone d’Utelle in the penultimate stage. Richie Porte and Alberto Contador will be among his rivals.
ASO: Romain Bardet: your performance in the Tour of Oman turned heads. Two years after discovering Green Mountain, you managed to beat everyone except Vincenzo Nibali in both the queen stage and the general classification. Is it a good yardstick for your progression?
Bardet: Things have happened over these two years.
This wasn’t the first time I went head-to-head with the best, but it provided some validation. At any rate, I have good reason to be happy with how the race unfolded. The stronger I get, the trickier it is to gauge my progression… and I realised I was inching closer to my goals.
ASO: Taking the fight to the stage hunters last weekend was also impressive.
Oman and Paris–Nice are like night and day, so it was very important for me to readjust to the usual pace in French races. Racing in Drôme and Ardèche has that element of stress and a flurry of activity in the peloton. In this respect, Paris–Nice is a mini-Tour de France —you can’t say the same for Oman. And, of course, you’ve got to be ready.
ASO: Is your current form the result of big changes in your winter training?
Bardet: I worked hard this winter, so I knew everything would fall into place. In terms of weight, I think I’m a tad heavier than at the same time of the year in previous seasons. At any rate, I’m not lacking any oomph. I also think my experience is starting to bear fruit after all these years. I’m no longer eligible for the white jersey competition, you know. You can’t keep playing the youth card forever!
ASO: To what extent does a rider whose main goal comes in July see Paris–Nice as an objective unto itself?
Bardet: As the first big stage race in Europe, Paris–Nice is a key event for the entire cycling community. —even more so for the French teams and their leaders. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments because Paris–Nice isn’t a race for pure climbers. But I’ve got the feeling things will be a bit different this year, it’s rather encouraging.
ASO: You mentioned the climb to La Madone d’Utelle, which you already reconnoitered…
I did, and it’s a nice one. But it’s not particularly tailored to climbers. Although it’s long, I think good classics riders won’t be stopped by this climb. However, it’ll be the decisive finish, even though the Mont Brouilly stage can also shake things up.
ASO: You’ll need a strong team to tackle such a tough week…
Bardet: We’ve got a solid squad. It’s a bit less experienced than in previous years, but they’re young riders who are getting stronger and stronger. Alexis Vuillermoz and I will be the two protected riders, and I’m sure our teammates will keep us safe for as long as possible. As for the rest, our sports management will decide who gets to play which role. I see no reason to keep Alexis Gougeard on a tight leash —some race scenarios could play into his hands.