Last year’s Tour de France had something of an unsettling effect on Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale). Second place overall was an undoubted breakthrough but, for someone who sets himself very precise parameters for his progression, he admitted it had arrived ‘sooner than expected’.
Suddenly, the only way up was the top step of the podium, and no Frenchman has been there since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Bardet didn’t necessarily feel ready, and he suffered from that ‘what next?’ complex, even flirting with the idea skipping this year’s Tour.
Now, those nerves seem to have made way for renewed self-confidence as Bardet finds himself in a position, on the second rest day, where winning the 2017 Tour de France is not a faint possibility but a realistic prospect.
Third overall, just 23 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome, it’s all to play for in the Alps in the third week.
“It’s my best start to a Tour de France so far, so everything’s possible,” Bardet said, sitting down in front of the press on the veranda of AG2R La Mondiale’s hotel in Chambon-sur-Lignon.
“The important thing is that I feel I’m progressing year after year. I don’t know if I’m closer to the yellow jersey but I’m closer to my top level, and I feel stronger than last year. That doesn’t mean that for sure I’ll be on the top step of the podium in Paris, or even second, but the morale is high.”
If Bardet feels physically stronger than last year, he has also matured psychologically, according to Vincent Lavenu, the long-standing general manager of the AG2R La Mondiale team. Lavenu in the past has described Bardet as a ‘faux calme’, someone who appears placid but who has bags of nervous energy that he’s always eager to unleash.
“He is much more at ease than in previous years,” Lavenu told Cyclingnews on Monday.
“With time he has learned to master his energy and his emotions. Cycling is an endurance sport where you cannot become agitated…