On stage 4 of the Tour of the Basque Country this Thursday, the final climb to Erlaitz could have caused some real damage. However, the stage was played on the downhill. A group of six men went away and fought for victory. Ion Izagirre eventually took it while David Gaudu finished fifty seconds later in a small peloton. Heading into the final two stages, the Frenchman sits 16th in the GC, whose new leader is Brandon McNulty.

“Romain saved the day”, Franck Pineau

Quite evidently, the bunch wanted to battle on Thursday afternoon, starting from Vitoria-Gasteiz. Due to the profile of this fourth stage, a lot of riders wanted to join the day’s breakaway. Therefore, the race did not calm down for two hours. “There always were new attacks, everyone wanted to take a step ahead, so it went full gas”, summed up Franck Pineau. “For us, it was not the best scenario as we lost Clément [Davy]. He got dropped on the first climb, and since the race never eased up, he couldn’t get back and therefore had to quit the race. This is the bad news today, but Clément is still young and was coming at the end of a peak form. He will now rest a bit to get back some freshness”. It then took almost a hundred kilometers on Thursday for a breakaway to establish itself. Four men took advantage of the day’s second climb to escape. However, they never got more than a three-minute lead as the Jaizkibel, a Clasica San Sebastian’s iconic climb, was already looming. “It was a race of attrition, the bunch was reducing from the back,” Franck said. “At the bottom of the Jaizkibel, there were already riders all over the place”.

Brought back up by his teammates approaching the penultimate climb of the day, David Gaudu could then benefit from the support of Romain Seigle. “It’s nice to see that the legs are coming back,” said the latter. “Being able to get over the climbs alongside David is good and promising for the future”. “Romain was doing really great today, and he even saved the day for us,” Franck said. “David had a puncture on the Jaizkibel’s downhill. If Romain had not been there, it would have been a disaster scenario because we were very far with the car”. About this episode, the former mountain biker told: “We were told to be in the first positions to start the descent, which we did. David was in my wheel, I saw he was slowing down at one point and then he told me on the radio that he had a problem. It was a matter of seconds. I gave him my bike, he set off again, and I waited… a long time (laughs). The good thing is that David had someone with him and he was able to get back straight away. Since we were in a good position, he even caught the wheel of the last ones in the group and didn’t have to do a real chase.” The Frenchman nevertheless had to change bike again after the downhill to get his own one. “It cost me a bit of energy, but I was still there on the last climb,” said David.

“It was complicated to play your cards right”, David Gaudu

In the Erlaitz climb (4km at 10%), a few attacks took place, but most of the selection was done from the back. At the top, David Gaudu was once again among the very best. However, there were still more than twenty kilometres to be covered. “It’s always difficult to manage these finals,” said Franck. “Some teams had the numbers and so they were able to attack. You also need to be a bit lucky in this kind of final to follow the good move. I had told David to follow Valverde, who rarely misses it, but you can’t watch or follow everyone. We’re a little disappointed because at the top of the last climb, they were just a handful. But finally, many came back from behind as they looked at each other in front. It is how it is, but that’s why they’re about thirty behind the group who fought for victory.” Six riders made a gap on the last downhill and indeed left the other favourites behind. Ion Izagirre eventually took the win, 49 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey group that featured David Gaudu. “I might not have fully recovered from yesterday. It was a very punchy final, the favourites looked a bit at each other and it was complicated to play your cards right”, said David who tried, unsuccessfully, with 10k to go.

On Thursday evening, with two stages left to go, the French climber is 16th overall, now 1’52 behind the new leader Brandon McNulty. “We shouldn’t focus on that too much,” Franck concluded. “To make a top 10 in this race would obviously be very nice, but it won’t be that important in a two-month time. I especially want people to remember that David is doing very well against a very big field. His position does not match his current level. Tomorrow it might be a sprint, but on a very short and hilly stage Saturday, I hope he’ll be able to prove it again.”

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