Romain Grégoire is everywhere. After battling in the stage finals at the start of the week, the 21-year-old gave it a go from the breakaway on Friday, in the first mountainous day of the Critérium du Dauphiné towards Collet of Allevard. After a strong fight, he was the last fugitive to be caught by the favorites, four kilometers from the summit, and won the most combative prize. David Gaudu tried to limit his losses and took nineteenth place on the line. The man from Brittany is now 23rd overall.

Before two really tough stages this weekend, the Critérium du Dauphiné peloton faced on a first mountainous day this Friday, with a profile recording no less than 3,500 meters of elevation gain. Yet, it was the final ascent of Collet d’Allevard (11.2 km at 8.5%), after 174 kilometres of racing, which was supposed to be decisive. As for Romain Grégoire, he had decided to go from far. “The goal is to be active and opportunistic to go for a stage victory,” he said. “Monday and Tuesday, I could fight with the best to try to get it. On the other hand, I know that I need to break away if I want a strong result this weekend. That’s why I got into the fight and in the breakaway.” The Frenchman didn’t lose time and attacked from the start, together with Magnus Cort, Thibault Guernalec, Alessandro Fancellu, Mason Hollyman and Arjen Livyns. The gap was made right away. “We rode well with six riders, and there were some great rouleurs with Magnus Cort and Thibaud Guernalec in particular,” said Romain. “For the flat, it was very good.” In the first part of the race, the breakaway was even able to gain a five-minute lead over the bunch.

“I can’t really have regrets”, Romain Grégoire

The situation was almost similar when the front riders approached the Col du Granier, nearly fifty kilometres from the line. “I almost believed in victory when the gap increased to 5’30,” added Romain. “I said to myself: “why not? If I have good legs, it can do it.” I told myself I needed at least three minutes at the foot of the final climb to hope for it. The peloton decided otherwise.” “I also believed in victory a little,” said Benoît Vaugrenard. “Soudal-Quick Step did not aim to win the stage. We knew that they would let it go and that we could have a prospect of victory. Yet, it didn’t just depend on us, but on the other teams, and that’s what we saw.” Due to a faster pace in the pack, the gap was first reduced to 3’30. Then, an itinerary error also penalized the breakaway. “I could see that it was turning left on the GPS, but we followed the red car in front of us and that’s what fooled us,” explained Romain. “We probably lost almost a minute in the process. This can happen in a race.” Due to strong chase within the bunch, the breakaway, which was reduced to five men, eventually got at the bottom of the Collet d’Allevard with only two minutes of a gap.

The leading men continued to lose time from there, and Romain Grégoire therefore attacked ten kilometres from the summit. “It was important to stay together and work well on the flat to save as much energy as possible,” he said. “Then from the bottom, I tried to go solo so that I could make my effort on my own and not be disturbed by the others’ tactics.” The Frenchman only took Magnus Cort with him, and after two more accelerations, managed to get rid of him nine kilometres from the finish line. The peloton, however, got really close. The first attackers, Laurens de Plus and Aleksandr Vlasov, brought him back four kilometres from the summit. “I did the best climb I could, and I gave it my all,” added Romain. “It could have paid off in other circumstances, it’s a good day. I honestly think that the itinerary mistake didn’t change anything. I might have gone a kilometre or two further, but when the champions want to fight, they win. I can’t really have regrets today.” “He still put on a strong ride,” said Benoît. “He already showed great things earlier this week, and again today. This bodes well for the future.”

“We are still in the mix”, David Gaudu

Barely caught, Romain Grégoire tried to push his leader David Gaudu, then slightly distanced from a group of favorites reduced to 20 men. Although he was unable to take part in the big fight, settled by Primoz Roglic at the summit, the Breton climber fought all the way to the top and obtained 19th place, 1’31 behind the Slovenian. “It was a hard day,” he said. “The guys did a great job. I’m not 100% yet, but I gave everything and didn’t give up until the finish. When I remember my form on the Dauphiné last year, then the progress I made on the Tour, I think it’s rather positive. I’m in preparation, but we still did a decent climb and we’re still in the mix. There are still two days left to do nice things.” “He lost a bit in the final, there is still work to do but we will try to finish well, and the most important thing is that he improves day by day,” added Benoît. Twenty-third overall, the Groupama-FDJ rider will therefore aim higher this weekend, while Romain Grégoire, after having won the most combative prize, could be tempted by another day in the front. “I think I’ve used energy today that might lack this weekend, but we’re going to try again,” he smiled. “Tomorrow is a very, very hard stage, a real mountain stage,” Benoît concluded. “There might be more possibilities for a breakaway on Sunday.”

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