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PARIS (AFP) — French team AG2R – La Mondiale will build its Tour de France roster around diminutive climber Romain Bardet, team general manager Vincent Lavenu said Monday. Bardet, 25, affirmed his pre-Tour form by finishing second to Chris Froome at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Baret will be backed up by Italian newcomer Domenico Pozzovivo, Belgian Jan Bakelants, and French riders Mikael Cherel, Cyril Gautier, Alexis Gougeard and Alexis Vuillermoz. The two remaining riders in the nine-man team will be named after various national championships next Sunday.
“The team were successful and steady in recent years and the Tour, as it is designed, should suit us,” said Lavenu. “Like most teams, we’re hope hoping for the jackpot of a stage win.”
Bardet’s ambitions for a high finish at the Dauphine appeared to be lost after he crashed and lost 45 seconds to then-leader Alberto Contador during the second stage. But on stage 6, Bardet attacked up the Col du Madelaine alongside compatriot Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). Pinot beat Bardet for the stage win, but his second-place finish boosted him to third in the overall.
Bardet then jumped to second after Australian rider Richie Porte (BMC) lost time in the run-in to the finish on stage 7.
Noticeably absent from the team’s Tour roster is Jean-Christophe Peraud, the runner-up from the 2014 Tour de France. Peraud’s 2016 campaign was derailed in May, when he suffered a terrifying crash at the Giro d’Italia. The Frenchman crashed on the third stage of the race and landed on his face.
Peraud returned to racing at the Tour de Suisse, where he finished in 55th place, nearly an hour down.
“[Peraud] had a difficult Tour of Switzerland, but finished correctly,” Levanu said. “We’ll talk after the French championships. But there’s no question of forcing him to race the Tour.”
Levanu said the door is open for other AG2R riders to shine. But the squad will enter the Tour de France working for Bardet. Bardet finished sixth in the 2014 Tour de France and ninth in 2015. Gougeard returns after a week off following a fall on the Dauphine.
“Romain (Bardet) will be the sole leader but we can’t close the door on other riders,” Lavenu said. “In the overall standings he doesn’t want to jump the gun and put himself under pressure. But if he is as strong as in the Dauphine I’m not worried while acknowledging that there are other criteria in the Tour.”