Just like the last few days, and to conclude the Tour de France’s second week, the Groupama-FDJ showed quite some combativity towards Andorra la Vella. On the first Pyrenean stage, David Gaudu, Valentin Madouas and Bruno Armirail all managed to enter the day’s breakaway. The young climber enjoyed great support from his teammates, but he just came across a stronger rider on Sunday. David Gaudu then took seventh place on the line, but is already looking towards the last week.
“We really didn’t want David to get trapped”, Valentin Madouas
191 kilometers were still to be completed before getting to the second rest day, and they weren’t the easiest ones of this 2021 Tour de France. From Céret to Andorra la Vella, the peloton was set to face the first Pyrenees climbs and to touch the clouds, reaching an altitude of more than 2,400 meters. However, and as Thierry Bricaud mentioned the evening prior, about fifty kilometres had to be covered before reaching the proper climbs. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team did not fail at the start, as they managed to put three men in a big breakaway that went after the slightly uphill first twenty kilometres. “The start was very fast and we ended up three in front”, said Bruno Armirail. “Silly to say, but there were all three of the team’s cards for today’s stage, with Valentin, David and myself”. In a leading group of 32 riders, including some real contenders, there was however a bit of confusion leading up to the climbs. “We quickly understood that it would be a mess because there were too many riders, several teams had several riders, there were various interests, and it was going fast with the tailwind,” added Thierry Bricaud. “We decided to calm the breakaway down a bit and Bruno then took the lead”. The time trial specialist continued: “There were a lot of attacks in the valley. So we decided that I was going to start pulling and try to stop the attacks. It was way more tiring to follow the moves and closing the gaps than riding in front. We then set a good tempo”.
Not in his best shape in recent days due to a cold snap, Bruno Armirail completely got back on track on Sunday and led the breakaway, all alone, for more than 85 kilometers! After leading the way in the long climb to Font-Romeu and then in the Col de Puymorens, also allowing the breakaway to get a ten-minute lead over the peloton, Bruno Armirail was done with his work at the bottom of Port d’Envalira. “We just make our race”, claimed Thierry. “Today was a real opportunity for us. So when we have three riders in front including our leader, we obviously want to try to give him the opportunity to contest the victory in the final. We had every reason to think he was able to claim the win. Bruno was not so well lately but felt better today. So we took advantage of it. Valentin was able to take over after and it allowed David to find himself in front in the final to play the victory”. “We really didn’t want David to get trapped because he was our only card,” continued Valentin, who took over in the third ascent of the day, then got the help of Trek-Segafredo. “He had this stage in mind since his bad day. We therefore had to do everything to put him in the best conditions”. Bruno Armirail confirmed: “David is a leader, and once you break away with him, you have full confidence in him”.
“The guys were real protagonists on the Tour”, Thierry Bricaud
Within the leading group, a first selection was made near the top of Port d´Enlivera (2406m), the Tour’s highest point, where a strong wind made things even more difficult. A group of around fifteen riders, including David Gaudu, then descended until the last climb of the day: the steep Col de Beixalis (6km to 8.5). Although he seemed at ease at the bottom, and even put a small acceleration, David Gaudu was unable to hold Sepp Kuss’s wheel when the latter attacked. The American soloed to victory, after descending to Andorra la Vella, while the Frenchman fought for 3rd place a minute later. He eventually took 7th before the second rest day. “He came across a stronger rider, explained Thierry Bricaud, but we don’t have any regret. If we had to do it again, we would do exactly the same thing. Today, the guys were real protagonists on the Tour, on a very difficult stage, which says a lot about their motivation. And when you have that motivation in the last week, that’s a good sign”. “We had fun,” said Valentin. “It didn’t work out for us today, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying. It was a good day, even if the legs obviously feel a bit heavy tonight”. Coming back to shape as he’s getting closer from home, Bruno Armirail concluded: “In the Vuelta last year, we tried this twice, we won twice. Today David did not win, but you can’t always pull it off. We will try again, and next week’s summit finishes could suit him even more”.