Romain Bardet is on a mission to change cycling

You’ve been at the top of the sport for more than a decade,” I begin softly, aiming to warm Romain Bardet to my theme before coaxing him to reflect on his long career at the sharp end. So I’m shocked to get knocked back so soon. “At the top?” he interrupts, taking issue with my premise. His longevity at the top is objectively true: he’s a two-time podium finisher at the Tour de France and runner-up at this year’s Liège-Bastogne- Liège – but he has a point to make about the fact he hasn’t won any of cycling’s biggest races. “The most organised team or best riders win almost every race they target and it means the sport has become less entertaining,” he says. “Nowadays, you can bet that the next three Grand Tours will be won by the same one or two teams.”

I’m speaking to Bardet at his winter training camp in January, but fast- forward to May and his point has a particular resonance: at the time of writing, Tadej Pogačar of UAE-Team Emirates is sitting pretty at the top of the Giro d’Italia’s GC standings. I’d intended to focus on the Frenchman’s 2024 season before possibly broaching the subject of whether he’s considering retirement – but his interjection has thrown my plans out of the proverbial window. I sense that the 33-year-old, who alongside Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot has sustained the glow in the embers of French cycling, is in pensive mood.

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