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After eight years, AG2R La Mondiale decided it was time for a new look, so the French team designed a new jersey for 2018. Showing it off was the team’s biggest star, Romain Bardet, who sat in as a model on Tuesday during a quick trip to Paris before catching up with the rest of his team for a pre-season training camp in Spain. It was a perfect opportunity to sit down with the amiable French rider, who has a penchant for attacking, to look back over his two Tour de France podium finishes and to look ahead to a new season full of ambition.
Words/images: James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
PELOTON Magazine: Romain, you have been pretty active in the off-season, doing some running and mountain biking.
Romain Bardet: Yeah, I had a great month of November, just having fun with sports. I did a lot of running and mountain biking as well as some weight lifting. I had to make do with the weather around my home, as I spent time with family in the Auvergne [the region in central France where he lives], but those are all sports I enjoy. I like mixing up sports in the winter. It allows me to stay in shape while giving my body a rest at the same time. But I leave today to join my team in Spain for our first camp, and already things will become more focused.
PELOTON: You are here to show off the new team jersey. Does an experienced pro like yourself still get exciting by a new kit?
Bardet: Yes, for sure. It’s always exciting to change your jersey up a bit and I really like it. I hope this jersey pleases people as much as the previous one, and I hope it has the same rich and long history. It’s really distinctive. The three big bands of color call to mind many national championship jerseys, although we have chosen the historical colors of our sponsor. For me, there is real harmony in this jersey and I think it will be really identifiable for our sponsors. It’s great!
PELOTON: It seems that you are mixing up your early-season racing schedule a bit, as you will race the Strade Bianche [in Italy] for the first time and then Tirreno-Adriatico.
Bardet: Yeah, I think I’ll also be doing Trofeo Laigueglia [on the Italian Riviera] before doing the Ruta del Sol [in southern Spain]. And then I hope to do two races that I really like, the Drôme and Ardèche Classics [in southern France], which will be a great preparation for the Strade Bianche. But my big objectives for the season remain the Tour de France and, I hope, the world championships—not to mention other races I really love, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
PELOTON: How has finishing on the podium during the last two Tours changed the way you approach the race physically, mentally and strategically?
Bardet: Well, finishing on the podium these last two years has really allowed me to develop certain reflexes in a race like the Tour. In addition, it allows me to prepare for the Tour with greater serenity, as I know what I am capable of doing. It is something the whole team has worked towards over the last couple of years and we are inching our way closer to the yellow jersey. It’s stimulating.
PELOTON: Do you think about winning the Tour?
Bardet: I don’t forbid myself from thinking of it. We’ve been close to something really special in the last two Tours. And if things continue in that direction, who knows? That said, I know that nothing comes easily in the Tour, but it is something we continue to work towards. It’s really encouraging to know that our team sponsorship is assured all the way through 2020 as well. That allows us to build on a solid base. The team is more and more structured, more and more focused. I hope to see some of the benefits already in 2018.
PELOTON: What did you think of Chris Froome’s decision to ride the 2018 Giro d’Italia. Does that change things for you?
Bardet: Hmm…I’d say, not really. After seeing how well he mastered the Vuelta following the Tour de France this year, I’d say that it really shows how he is capable of being at the top for two grand tours in the same season. In addition, there is an extra week between the Giro and the Tour, so he will have even more time to recover. If anything, Froome was even stronger in the Vuelta than he was in the Tour, so if everything goes well in the Giro, I think he will remain the immense favorite going into the Tour. And it is obviously great for cycling. It is obviously a risk for Froome, but it’s great for the sport. There is going to be tremendous competition in the Tour de France with guys like Quintana, Porte, Martin, etcetera. And the course inspires attacking with many back-to-back mountain stages, etcetera. But Froome is at that stage in his career where he could really win both the Giro and the Tour.
PELOTON: Would you ever consider doing such a double yourself?
Bardet: Well, not for the moment. I was really not at the same level in the Vuelta as I was in the Tour so I don’t think that I’d be able to ride the two at the same level at this point. I loved doing the Vuelta and it was something I may well do again. And of course I hope I will benefit from doing two grand tours in 2018. But to do the Giro-Tour double is hard for me to imagine right now, although it is something that I would like to be able to do at some point during my career.