The date of March 7 was on the Groupama-FDJ’s agenda for a very long time, as one of the most important stages of the 81st Paris-Nice was on the menu this Tuesday. Around Dampierre-en-Burly, Stefan Küng, David Gaudu and their teammates met all expectations over the 32.2 kilometres of a particular team time trial. In the mix from the very start, they stood up to the favorite teams until the finish to eventually establish the day’s fourth best mark, just fourteen seconds behind the winners Jumbo-Visma. A significant performance which also allows David Gaudu to approach the second part of Paris-Nice in excellent position as he already sits in eleventh place overall.
“We had great ambitions”, Anthony Bouillod
The team time trial made its comeback on Paris-Nice on Tuesday, thirty years after the last one. For the occasion, the organizers therefore decided to bring a touch of innovation to this already very special discipline. Unusually, the reference time established by each team was indeed decided by the first rider to cross the line, and each competitor was then given his own time. A new format that left a door open to new strategies. “The advantage is that it takes a little stress off the teams, because we no longer have to reach the line with four or five guys”, noted Philippe Mauduit. “We are therefore less conservative during the race. We can also take the risk of losing riders earlier than usual. I also think it’s nice for the spectators to see this stage rocket heading towards the finish line”. Before the Groupama-FDJ team set off at 3:39 p.m., other teams had reached the finish line more or less together; with one, two or even three riders. As for Philippe Mauduit and Sébastien Joly’s men, they were all still there at the intermediate point, where they set the third best provisional time, six seconds behind Jayco-AlUla. Then, thanks to a thunderous finale, concluded by the launch of a two-headed rocket including Stefan Küng and David Gaudu, the French team even took the second best time, just ten seconds away from the Australian squad.
From there, they just had to wait for the last teams’ finishes. The Jumbo-Visma first took the best time, by four seconds, before EF Education-EasyPost missed victory by just one second, all of which ultimately pushed Groupama-FDJ back to the bottom of the podium. An extraordinary final result, nevertheless. “It’s a good day, and we had shown our hands”, said a satisfied Philippe Mauduit. “Stefan obviously did a tremendous job, but Miles also did a crazy job. He picked up the pace each time he took the lead, Arnaud also brought them speed, and the three of them were the squad’s driving forces. David was also able to help his mates to go very fast. It’s awesome. The team worked well in recent weeks on this time trial, and everyone fulfilled his role. Both the staff and the riders met the expectations and gave the best of themselves, and that led to a very good fourth place”. “Overall, the performance is in line with what we expected”, added Anthony Bouillod. “We have been working on this discipline since this winter with this team, because we had great ambitions for this time trial. Our goal at the start was the top-5, or even the top-3. We knew we had a great team. In the end, there is not much to complain about. It was very good technically speaking. There were one or two small mistakes, but it can happen with that intensity. Overall, it’s a great performance.”
“We were given the means to do something great”, David Gaudu
In the last two kilometres of the race, the group therefore gradually reduced to finally send Stefan Küng and David Gaudu to the finish line together. The Swiss, a major specialist of the event, was proud of his teammates. “I tried to give some advice and really put everyone on the right track,” he explained. “It was my role to lead by example. I expect a lot from myself on a day like today. The whole team followed, and all the guys did a very, very good job. We did well technically, despite a little disorganization after the intermediate time check. We had an execution plan, we wanted to be as many as possible until the last two kilometres, and then make a kind of lead-out train. It was done perfectly. Everyone played his part, everyone in the team really committed to it and I think we can be happy with this performance. It also rewards the performance department which works on the time trial, the positions, as today we fought with the best as a team, not as individuals”. The day’s result was obviously in no way a matter of chance, as Anthony Bouillod underlined again: “The whole team really got involved in this team time trial goal. Our partners supported us to prepare for this important event. On Friday, we were on the Mortefontaine circuit for a precious training session, thanks to our partner Continental who financed the rental of this ideal place. This day has borne fruit, that’s for sure”.
This also enabled David Gaudu to climb to eleventh place in the general classification on Tuesday evening, seventeen seconds behind leader Magnus Cort, even before the first climbs of the race. “Beyond the fact that I am satisfied, I think that the whole team can be satisfied”, insisted the Frenchman. “We were lucky that the team put us in good conditions. We worked on it this winter in Calpe, then on the racing circuit last weekend. We were able to do things well and everyone was motivated. We were given the means to do something great. We knew we had very good riders and a great road captain. I think it’s a good day, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Paris-Nice is now on with this team time trial, and we will already see a good fight tomorrow”. On Wednesday, a first summit finish will be on the menu onto La Loge des Gardes (6.8 km at 7%). “I think it’s going to be a hell of a race,” smiled David. “It will be a very difficult day; we’ll need to hang on, but I have full confidence in the team. It’s a day where you need to fight hard until the end, and I will”.