Romain Bardet: „There are always strong riders and a big battle on Paris-Nice“
After two years essentially focused on the Giro, Romain Bardet has put the general classification of the Tour de France back in his sights for 2023 and thus returns to Paris-Nice with this in mind. Ten years after his debut in the Race to the Sun, the Frenchman will ride for the first time in the DSM jersey of the Dutch team, with which he has been since the 2021 season. Fifth in the general classification in 2019, he will have the opportunity to measure himself against Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar this year.
Romain Bardet, how do you feel after the opening races that launched your season in the south of France?
I think this was the best programme to allow me to prepare for Paris-Nice, the best way to arrive in shape. I am not yet at my peak, but my legs are good. I have to get over a little virus which weakened me last weekend, but it will pass quickly. I had a mechanical problem in the Ardèche, which prevented me from going for the win, and the next day on the Drôme Classic, I felt that I was lacking a bit of punch in the run to the finish. But despite the cold, it was still a very intense race, and this work was helpful.
„It’s the toughest one-week race in the entire calendar. The tension is constant.“
Do you remember the 2013 Paris-Nice and your sixth place in Brioude, which is still your best result on a stage?
Indeed, that goes back a long way. It was my second professional year, but above all, the one in which I genuinely discovered the elite level. Everything was new, and I understood too well that I was entering another dimension. The conditions were difficult for the Brioude stage, but I was up to it. I quickly realised that Paris-Nice was a very demanding race.
What do you mean?
I think it’s the toughest one-week race on the entire calendar. It is right behind the big tours. It is not where I feel most at ease, but there is always a good fight. The tension is constant. It’s a difficult race, with always a steep stage early in the week, then there is the wind factor, then a time trial, and then the final weekend with a series of climbs. The Dauphiné is easier for me because the ascent is more progressive. And Tirreno-Adriatico has more days reserved for the sprinters, so it is not as hard.
„The climb to La Colle-sur-Loup is tremendously difficult, and you can’t be off that day.“
Have you made this Paris-Nice an intermediate objective?
More than anything else, it is an essential race in the build-up to my season. Getting my bearings with a new group will be one of the challenges. I spent some time with my teammates in training. We have excellent young riders and real talents. Casper Van Iden and Pavel Bittner are more sprinter-punchers. They need to get their teeth into it. And Max Poole is only 19 years old, but he is a great climber in the making. He fell last Sunday, and I still hope he can be with us so that he can dive into the deep end.
The Col de la Couillole stage will be the big event, but have you been able to study the route in detail?
First, I will make a reconnaissance ride of the opening stage, which could be good. Then, the team time trial is a double-edged sword because of the armadas that will be present. As for the rest, I know the sector very well of the last three stages, and I can tell you that the La Colle-sur-Loup ascent is tremendously difficult, and you can’t be off that day. As for the La Couillole climb, I have already ridden it several times, and I did it again last week.
As a general classification rider, is it realistic to aim for victory with favourites like Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar?
We’ll see. They’ve been flying since the start of the season. And they are also with some big teams, that’s for sure. But whatever happens, there are always strong riders and a big battle in Paris-Nice. So, I still go there saying I will ride my race. I have to rely on my legs first and my form.
Historical series: trial balloons
Stage race organizers sometimes innovate in the way they run time trials. This year, Paris-Nice is experimenting with a special style of team time trial, with the times achieved by each rider being used for the day’s classification. An individual time trial run by teams, in short, is a strange idea. But the history of cycling is not lacking in unusual attempts at time trials. The official website of Paris-Nice offers an overview of the most creative initiatives: the „separate starts“ in the 1920s; the preface of the 1988 Tour; or, closer to our time, the chrono-pursuit raced by women in Marseille in 2017, etc.
The four first episodes can be found here: https://www.paris-nice.fr/en/paris-nice-trial-balloons