In the most “explosive” Classic there is, naming the Flèche Wallonne, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team had to deal with David Gaudu’s forfeit on Wednesday. They eventually coped with it pretty well. Bruno Armirail first entered the day’s breakaway and was able to stay in front until the last fifteen kilometres. However, the final decision was as usual made on the Mur de Huy. Dylan Teuns took the win at the top, while Rudy Molard fought to a fine eighth place and Quentin Pacher secured a top-20 for the first time in his career (17th). This is the tenth top-10 in a row for the team in the WorldTour Classics.

On Wednesday morning in Blegny, Groupama-FDJ showed up at the start of the first of the two Ardennes Classics without their alleged leader. On a 200-kilometre course featuring well-known climbs, the plan was therefore slightly different. “Because there wasn’t David at the start, Anthony, Seb and I could go in the breakaway”, explained Bruno Armirail. “Seb followed a move first. I even thought it was the right one, but they eventually got caught. Then, at the top of a hill, I felt it could be the moment to go. I tried, and it was the right move. We know that it is obviously difficult to make it all the way on the Flèche Wallonne through the breakaway, especially since we only had a maximum lead of three minutes”. “The entry list led us to believe that the race could be less blocked than in previous years”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “We realized quickly enough that Ineos Grenadiers and Quick-Step wanted to reproduce the usual scenario. We weren’t sure of that before the start, and everyone was expecting a lively race. That’s why we absolutely had to have someone in the breakaway. And if there had been a counter-attack, it would have been necessary to also put someone there so as to keep a step ahead“. Together with eleven riders in the lead, the French time trial specialist did his part as he usually does, despite the bunch’s pressure. “In the first time atop of Mur de Huy, we only had a minute gap”, he said.

“I think I paid for my lack of experience”, Quentin Pacher

Although the peloton started to lose some riders, the margin was almost the same when the riders got through the second ascent of Mur de Huy, with about thirty kilometres to go. At this point, only four men were left in the lead, including Bruno Armirail. The latter kept pushing with his breakaway’s companions and was able to come over the Côte d’Ereffe (2 km at 6%) in the lead. However, his adventure ended fifteen kilometres from the finish, before the Côte de Cherave (1.4 km at 8%). “It’s another breakaway day, I have done a few since the start of the season”, said Bruno. “Hopefully it will pay one day…” When the rider from the Pyrenees got caught, five men from Groupama-FDJ were still in the bunch, and Anthony Roux gave his last pulls to position his leaders. Kevin Geniets, Rudy Molard, Quentin Pacher, and Sébastien Reichenbach were then able to follow a peloton of around sixty men heading towards the Mur de Huy. At the bottom of it, the very last attackers were caught. The pace increased progressively on the first slopes, and Quentin Pacher appeared close to the front. “At the bottom of the climb, I gradually replaced myself, after Kevin also helped me reposition a bit”, said the Frenchman, “but I think I paid for my lack of experience in the final climb. I moved up to find myself in third position, in Valverde’s wheel, with 300 meters to go, but I ran out of energy when the final sprint started. I should have spread my effort a bit more, or kept some energy in the first part of the climb.”

“It’s nice to be with the best”, Rudy Molard

In the last 250 meters, while the favourites produced their last kick, Quentin Pacher lost some positions, unlike Rudy Molard, who made a nice comeback. At the top, Dylan Teuns eventually took the victory while Rudy crossed the line in eighth place. “I really like this race, and I knew that I was gradually getting in shape,” he said. “I had good ambitions today. Without David, I also knew that I could play my card and do my own race. I really gave it my all and had one of my best climbs here.” Thanks to a time almost similar to that of 2017, the French puncher secured another top-10 in Huy. “I would have liked to beat my best result, which was eighth, but when I think about my recent setbacks, I’m really happy to get a top-10 on a WorldTour Classic”, added Rudy. “It’s nice to be with the best. It’s good to be fighting in the front on such a difficult Ardennes Classic. I think we would have been happy for a top-10 at the start”. In addition to this performance, Quentin Pacher entered the top-20, as he finished the Belgian one-day race for the first time. “I was satisfied to be up there for a result”, said the latter. “I saw, I learned, and I will not make the same mistake again. I was in the right place at the right time, but you also need to learn how to manage the climb. It’s surely a race that suits my profile. It makes me want to come back next year with a little more experience, and with better legs also (smiles)”.

On a sidenote, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team keeps its series of top-10 in the WorldTour Classics rolling. On Wednesday, it made it ten. “It’s a good day for the team,” said Philippe. “We knew it would be difficult for us to do better than what we did in case of a packed bunch at the bottom. However, I noticed the commitment of our seven riders. I noticed the good work done by Matthieu, Anthony, Kevin and Seb. If Rudy and Quentin were able to shine in the final, it is also thanks to the team that supported them. We know that our riders are in shape, and we will go to Liège with some confidence”. “Today’s race gives me confidence for Sunday”, said Rudy. “It is also the last of the Classics, so we will have to give everything”.

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