Romain Bardet. Is the 2018 Giro d’Italia a better idea?

Italy, baby!!!

In all the prognostications post-Tour de France, there’s plenty of talk about who could possibly beat Sky’s Chris Froome in next years’ Tour. There’s Richie Porte (BMC), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the rejuvenated Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), the freshly chastised Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and of course, Romain Bardet (AG2R) who has been on the podium twice in a row.

Our question would be this — should Bardet even ride next year’s Tour de France? Perhaps he’d be better served career-wise and results-wise by tacking the Giro d’Italia and skipping Le Grand Shindig.

Think about it: although Bardet is an aggressive and confident challenger for Froome, he is not the all-rounder compared to the Briton. Froome is the equal of Bardet in the mountains yet is far superior against the clock. That is where he beat the Frenchman this time around France. Froome has repeatedly shown he can train and win no matter what kind of course design A.S.O. throws at him.

That crucial difference makes it unlikely that Bardet would have a true shot at dethroning Froome when he aims for his fifth Tour title. It’s really doesn’t matter whether it’s a mountain-summit heavy course and one that favors the discipline of time trialing. He has the stronger team by far and the biggest budget.

What’s to be gained for Bardet if he takes another second or third in the Tour next year? He’ll fall into the same runner-up category as Quintana and that gets to be a large weight psychologically. And as Thibaut Pinot knows well, any sign of success in the Tour puts enormous pressure on a French rider as the country anxiously awaits their first winner since Bernard Hinault back in 1985.

Pinot did well to take a break from the Tour de France and ride the Giro d’Italia instead. It was a physical and psychological reset. He finished fourth and almost hauled his way onto the podium. Why wouldn’t Bardet employ the same strategy, perhaps win the Italian Grand tour and let Froome, now 32 old, age another year?

And keep in mind, AG2R doesn’t have the budget to go up against Sky’s stacked team. It’s not like they’re hiring away a rider of Mikel Landa’s quality or breaking Geraint Thomas’ contract and putting him in the service of Bardet.

If you’re French and a top GC rider with two podiums to your credit, it makes all the sense in the world — that that goes triple for the sponsors — to ride the 2018 Tour de France. But if we’re Bardet, we’ve be very tempted by the Giro d’Italia and then come back to beat a weaker Froome in the 2019 Tour.

As Clint Eastwood once famously said in one of the Dirt Harry movies, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

 

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