There might be 12 riders within 90 seconds of each other at this year’s Giro d’Italia after nine stages, but for Romain Bardet there are two riders he is looking out for.
Speaking from Italy via Zoom on the second rest day, the Team DSM rider said that “maybe” himself, Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) are the “three best” at this year’s race.
The trio failed to breakaway from the other favourites on Sunday’s stage to Blockhaus, instead finishing on the same time as João Almedia (UAE-Team Emirates) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe).
However, the trio did look the most lively on the final climb, with only Bardet and Landa able to follow Carapaz’s big attack, even if it did amount to little in the end.
“It was a pretty big attack, and a sudden change of pace, so it was all out,” the Frenchman explained. “There’s still a long time to go. In the last few kilometres Landa was super strong also. We’ve shown that maybe that we’re the three best, but we didn’t manage to get much of a gap, but it was still a good day.”
“I think it was the first really hard stage of this Giro,” he said. “It was a first test. The stage before was very demanding, so it was very good to be up there with the best guys, even if we didn’t make a big time difference.”
As much as one can work out over a dodgy internet connection to the south of Italy, Bardet looked very relaxed, comfortable in his status as one of the favourites for the maglia rosa. His first GC win for almost ten years at the Tour of the Alps last month must have given him confidence, and at 31, he has the experience to help his undeniable skill.
This is his second Giro, after he finished seventh at last year’s race. After leaving AG2R La Mondiale for Team DSM at the end of 2020, the Frenchman looks relieved of the burden of having to target the Tour de France, as he did for eight consecutive editions from 2013 to 2020.
“You can see that teams maybe have less control on the race than at the Tour,” he said. “It’s more open, and so far over the nine days the GC classification is still really tight. It’s pretty interesting.”
As the race goes into its second week, the mountains are put away for a bit, with a few more rolling stages. One would suggest this might be relaxing, but nothing is every really relaxing at the Giro.
“The first four stages of this second week are not maybe the most suitable for big change, but still it’s the Giro, so you never know,” Bardet told the media. “There are some climbs in the final, and with the tension in the bunch… we also have to focus on these stages.”
Stage 11 looks like another day purely for the sprinters, but the rest of this week could be dominated by the breakaway, although as Bardet said, anything could happen. Stage 14 is certainly one that could see an ambush happen, before the race returns to the serious mountains next Sunday. A different GC leaderboard ahead of the next rest day is very possible.
During this Giro it was announced that Bardet had extended his contract with Team DSM, which will keep him at the team until at least 2024.
“I’m feeling good and performing well,” he said. “Everything is really good for me here. Since I joined I’ve made big steps, and again I’m successful on the bike. Off the bike it’s a really good environment to live in.”
He also has the advantage, at the Giro anyway, of working alongside Thymen Arensman, who is also up there on GC, just 1-27 behind the race leader.
“Thymen is a super nice guy and I think it’s super good that we can both be there in the final,” Bardet said. :It’s a good advantage for us.”
It’s clear the pair get on well, and Arensman seems just as relaxed as his teammate, checking in that his hair looks OK before answering any questions.
“It’s a great learning experience for the future. I’m really happy to be here,” the 22-year-old Dutchman said.
“It has been a great first week, also very nice to ride a bit in the front and help Romain. Also with a good and strong team here, it’s good to be at the front of the bunch and help each other.”
At times in this race, it has seemed very 2015 with Ineos Grenadiers aping their old Sky tactics and utilising their fabled mountain train. With Bardet again up there on GC, that’s another thing that feels archaic. Except maybe now it’s different, maybe he can win.