David Gaudu’s ambitions in the 2021 edition of Paris-Nice almost went away on Wednesday, twenty kilometers from the mountain top finish in Chiroubles. After suffering a crash in the Mont Brouilly’s downhill, the Frenchman quickly got back on his bike and managed to come back in the bunch, especially thanks to Bruno Armirail’s support. Despite these efforts, the young climber proved to be one of the strongest on the final climb, and could actually secure a very nice seventh place on the line, sixteen seconds behind the winner, Primoz Roglic.
“I could not avoid the crash”, David Gaudu
Before the big fight that should take place this weekend around Nice, the GC contenders were set to test themselves on Wednesday in Chiroubles, with a first summit finish. Eager to be a step ahead of the favourites, six men however took the lead early on to give themselves a chance to win the stage: Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Oliver Naesen (AG2R-Citroën), Julien Bernard (Trek- Segafredo), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Oscar Riesebeek (Alpecin-Fenix) and Fabien Doubey (Total-Direct Energie). Their lead remained of five minutes or so for a long time while Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma took control of the bunch. There, David Gaudu enjoyed the support of his “bigger” teammates. “The ‘sprinters’ group was not quite on its terrain today,” said Thierry Bricaud. “Still they did their part to try to preserve and protect David. There is a good energy in the group, which is important for the future”. Bruno Armirail could not agree more with his sports director: “The whole team did a good job all day, we often were in a good position. David has been well protected, especially by Jacopo Guarnieri. I know he’s feeling good on his wheel. It works very well between all of us. There is mutual benefit. We try to position them for the sprint stages, and in return, they give us a hand on the mountain stages. We have a versatile squad and everyone helps each other, that’s very nice”.
With about sixty kilometers to go, the riders climbed Mont Brouilly (3.2 km at 7.3%) for the first time, but the race actually exploded in the second time up that hill, with twenty-five kilometers to go. Ignatas Konovalovas brought the Groupama-FDJ’s leader back up front, and at the top of the climb, only 40 riders or so were still in there, including David Gaudu and Bruno Armirail. The latter’s presence proved to be very important on Wednesday, since after only a few hundred meters in the downhill, David Gaudu suffered a crash. “Tao Geoghegan Hart slipped right in front of me,” said the 24-year-old climber. “We were 4th and 5th in the bunch. I could not avoid it and I hit the ground. That’s a pity, because it looked like I was having a good day. I immediately thought of getting back. At the time, my elbow hurt a bit but it was okay afterwards”. A handful of seconds after the accident, Bruno Armirail stopped alongside his leader. “He was on the side of the road,” he remembered. “Obviously, I waited for him, and we were quite far when we started the chase. We went pretty fast in the downhill and he trusted me, despite the crash he just had. I gave everything on the downhill, on the flat and in the small hills to get him as close to the peloton as possible. Once I did not have anything left, I told him to go, it was up to him to jump across.”
“The most important is that we’re still up there in the mix”, Thierry Bricaud
After a fast chase, David Gaudu eventually came back in the bunch with twelve kilometers to go, just four before the final climb. “If Bruno hadn’t been in the peloton at the time, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get back,” said the French climber. “If I had been alone, it would have been over for me. Bruno was once again of a very big support today”. “The crash was the key moment of the day, but paradoxically, we handled it well,” added Thierry. “Bruno did a good job once again to put things right, but David also dealt with it pretty well. I tried to reassure him and relax him so he could get his focus back quickly, but he already was. It also proves that he keeps on progressing. This kind of situation will make him evolve.” In the final climb, David Gaudu often moved up to the very first positions. Although he did not react to Primoz Roglic’s decisive attack three kilometers from the top, he still finished among the very first chasers, in 7th position just 16 seconds down. “I had good legs in the final,” he said, “but I was also afraid of blowing up because of my previous efforts. I’m still happy, because the goal when I crashed was first to come back and then to finish with the best. We did not lose time, except on Primoz, so that’s a good thing”. “The most important is that we are still up there in the mix. That was necessary,” added Thierry.
After stage 4, David Gaudu moved up 37 places and now finds himself twelfth overall, 1’15 behind Roglic but only 40 seconds off the podium. “We will try to heal the wounds and recover well tomorrow,” David finished. “On Friday, things might get a little harder, but I hope to recover in order to be good to go on Saturday for La Colmiane”. In the meantime, “we will get back on ‘’Arnaud mode’’ tomorrow”, concluded Thierry. “Even if the final is not easy, we hope for a sprint”.