The first week of the Tour de France finally came to an end, on Sunday, at the top of the iconic Puy de Dôme, which made its return on the race’s menu for the first time since 1988. At the finish, Michael Woods claimed victory from a breakaway while David Gaudu, well supported by Thibaut Pinot and Valentin Madouas, fought hard to limit his losses on stage 9. The Frenchman did lose one place overall, and sits now in 8th position, but everything is still to be done before the two last weeks of the Tour.
On Sunday, history combined with sporting stakes on stage 9 of the 2023 Tour de France. In addition to another highly anticipated fight between the coGC contenders, the “Grande Boucle” started from Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, Raymond Poulidor’s town, and finished 182 kilometres further at the summit of Puy de Dôme, a historical finish of the Tour which was missing on the route for 35 years. The course to get there did not include major difficulties, but the terrain was still quite hilly. As a consequence, many thought the breakaway had a chance today. Surprisingly, however, the first attempt of fourteen riders at km 0 turned out to be the right one. “We wanted to be in the breakaway, but we did not think it would go so soon, so quickly”, explained Thibaut Pinot. “The bunch blocked the road straight away, and that was it”. The peloton did try to chase for a few minutes, but eventually let the fugitives slip away and even gave them a ten-minute lead halfway through the race. It soon became clear that the day’s victory belonged to the first group up the road, as the pack was content to set an easy pace. The breakaway even tackled the climb of the Puy de Dôme with a gap of about fifteen minutes.
“We did not explode”, Thibaut Pinot
A first occurred up front for the stage victory, which was finally taken by Michael Woods, while another race started in the bunch twelve kilometres from the finish. “The pace was high from the bottom, and it was very hot”, said Thibaut. “It wasn’t easy.” In the first section of the Puy de Dôme, from Clermont-Ferrand, the yellow jersey teammates made a first selection and only thirty men were able to survive it. Valentin Madouas and Thibaut were still present alongside their leader. Following a faster section, the toughest part of the climb started (last 4600m at 11%) and what was left of the peloton went into pieces. “Shortly after the five-kilometre sign, the tempo really increased”, described Valentin. “With the massive crowd, the motorbike was right in front of the group, and it really stretched out. David told us to stay at our own pace”. The French climber therefore lost a few metres to the rest of his rivals and was first led by his lifelong friend, before Thibaut Pinot took over in the Puy de Dôme final. The rider from Franche-Comté eventually carried his leader to the very end, and the two men crossed the line almost two minutes behind Pogacar and Vingegaard, and about a minute behind the other favorites.
“It’s a mixed day”, confessed Thibaut. “We did not explode but we lost a bit of time. I think we still managed our climb well, because we mostly needed not to blow up, but for sure we would have hoped for better today”. “We tried to climb on the basis of our record values, we gave our best today”, added Valentin. “In front, they were stronger today, but it was just a one climb-kind of stage. We would have liked to be higher of course, but nothing is lost, and we are not really far either”. Thirteenth among the favorites on Sunday, David Gaudu moved down one place overall and now sits in eighth position, six minutes behind leader Vingegaard, 3’20 from third place and 1’40 from fourth. “The road is very long, as we often say”, said Thibaut. “There will be opportunities for an aggressive race when we hit the proper mountains. At the moment, it is hard to do anything but follow. We have shown that we are up there, there is no reason to doubt. It’s not because we lost time today that we have to question everything”. “It’s an elimination race, and a few riders again lost everything today,” added Valentin. “We are still in the mix and it’s the stages with multiple climbs that will make the difference. A lot is going to happen in the second and third weeks.”
“I will tackle the second week with a lot of ambition”, Valentin Madouas
“Of course, we’re disappointed when we don’t get the expected results, but on the other hand, we didn’t lose everything and there is nothing to worry about,” said Philippe Mauduit. “We have to stay focused on this Tour which is going to be super hard. It’s going to be a big endurance race. We must not panic, even if we would like to be higher on GC. What awaits us is still very difficult and we know that David always finishes the Grand Tours in a good way. People often remind us that we were aiming for a podium on the Tour, and we still have this ambition, but let’s not forget that being third in the Tour is a really high goal, and that it is not easy to achieve. We have to stay focused and do everything to get close to it.” On Sunday Thibaut Pinot also entered the top-15 overall, and Valentin Madouas in the top-20. It is now time for a much-awaited rest day on Monday. “Since I turned pro, no Grand Tour has made as many gaps as this one over the first nine days”, recalled Thibaut. “It was a tiring week, and the second one will be just as hard. Hopefully, the rest day will do us good, and from Tuesday, we will go in breakaways to get a stage while still aiming for a good overall with David”. “I can’t wait to get to the second week, which suits me very well,” said the French champion. “I will tackle it with a lot of ambition. It’s possible to do some nice things next week”.