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After solid Oman, Bardet eying Tour and more

MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — French cycling took note of this week’s Tour of Oman, where Romain Bardet fought head-to-head with eventual winner Vincenzo Nibali and signaled his intentions for the Tour de France.

Bardet, who turned 25 this winter, will lead Ag2r La Mondiale in the Tour de France. He’ll also be among the best hopes of a nation that is hungry for its first overall title since Bernard Hinault’s win in 1985. Judging by the results this week in the Middle East, Bardet is on track.

“Yes, the Tour de France is a big part of the season, but I also like to perform all year long,” Bardet told VeloNews one morning in Oman. “That begins with Paris-Nice and Catalunya, then the big goal is Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de Romandie. There are many goals this year, but there’s no other way than to ride a good Tour de France.”

Bardet and FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot are France’s best chance of a podium finish. In 2014, Bardet placed sixth behind Vincenzo Nibali. In 2015, he was ninth behind Sky’s Chris Froome.

The placing fails to reflect Bardet’s fight. A “jour sans” stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski resort cost him 8:50 minutes to Froome. In exchange, he found freedom to attack. Doing so, earned a stage win in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and gained time in the overall. It showed insiders that if Bardet can keep it together, avoiding those off days, then his Tour chances could thrive.

“I’m working on all the skills needed to be a stage race contender, especially for a three-week race like the Tour de France,” he said. “It’s important to ride safe in the first half to the Tour, to avoid an off day that could compromise a podium or top five. I have to manage those days better, a skill that will come with time.”

Time is benefiting Bardet. He won the best young rider classification in the 2013 Tour of Oman when he placed 13th behind overall victor Froome. On the 7.5km summit finish up Green Mountain in this year’s edition, he attacked early and thinned the group down. The only thing he lacked was a response to Nibali’s winning move at 150 meters out.

“I’m happy. In the end, I was very close to getting the win against one of the biggest champions of his generation in Nibali,” Bardet said. “It’s a good start, but the big things will happen later in the season.”

Though France’s attention remains centered on the Tour, Bardet explained his season holds much more. Liège-Bastogne-Liège has maintained an important place for the rider from south-central France since he placed second in the under-23 edition in 2011.

“As a professional, I was 10th and then sixth last year. My worst place was 13th. I will try to do something better. And why not already this year?” he said.

“For the public and media who don’t follow the whole season, everything is about the Tour de France, but for me it’s also important to perform from Oman through to Lombardia. For sure, though, for the people who just know my name in France, for them, only the Tour de France matters.”