On Saturday, at the summit of Mont Poupet, David Gaudu finally closed the setbacks’ chapter. After a difficult start to the season, the French climber made his comeback on the Tour du Jura by conquering the final climb. Combative and aggressive, the rider from Groupama-FDJ put his final attack one kilometre from the finish and gradually flew towards victory. His first one since June 2022, and a long-awaited one. A chapter closes, a new one opens for the 27-year-old. The racing trip in Franche-Comté will close on Sunday with the Tour du Doubs.

To keep its flawless performance going in Franche-Comté, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team needed to master the 3,000 metres of elevation gain on the Tour du Jura this Saturday, including the decisive final climb of Mont Poupet (4 km to 8%). Only one change was made in the roster compared to the day before, with Colin Savioz replacing his mate from “La Conti” Ben Askey, and the young Frenchman quickly had to work. After around twenty kilometres, fourteen riders found themselves in the lead including Alexis Vuillermoz, Marco Frigo, Kevin Ledanois and Adne Holter, the last man standing from the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs’s breakaway. “This big move was not particularly dangerous because we knew the profile was hard enough,” said Thierry Bricaud. “In the end, it looked a bit like yesterday. The only difference was that all the favourites teams took their responsibilities early on. Colin did a great job all day to control the gap with the help of Decathlon-AG2R.” Unlike the day before, the gap did not reach eight minutes and only peaked at 3’30 with a hundred kilometres to go. The chase then proved effective, since the gap of the fugitives was only one minute at the bottom of the Thésy climb (3.6 km at 9%), forty kilometres from the finish.

“To get confidence back, sometimes you have to let yourself go”, David Gaudu

In this climb, Frigo and Holter went together in the lead, while a first selection took place in the peloton. “We didn’t want the action to start far from the finish because we could have faced teams with numbers and get tactically trapped,” explained Thierry. “Lenny suffered a bit on this climb, he didn’t have a great day. He suffered a bit from the first heat. David followed some moves, then on the descent Reuben did a very good job until the foot of the final climb.” Jesus Herrada found himself between the leading duo and the 40-man bunch for a bit, before getting caught. Starting the foothills of Mont Poupet, the gap was only around forty seconds with the leading riders, and Reuben Thompson made a final effort to position his leaders before tackling the hardest slopes, with about four kilometres to go. “It was a different climb from yesterday, a bit longer,” explained Thierry. “We had the same plan except we reversed the roles. David had to attack early, which he did very well.” 3,5 kilometres from the top, the Breton opened up the race, and accelerated again 300 metres further up.

After these two accelerations, only a handful of riders were still in the mix. “All day long, I kept telling myself that I was going to attack from the bottom, and I said it too at the briefing,” said David. “Today, I didn’t think too much. I told myself: what can go worse than the three crashes since the start of the season and an injured finger? To get confidence back, sometimes you have to let yourself go. I cleared my mind before the climb, I told myself that I was going to give everything and that we would see at the top where it leads me.” Thanks to this aggressive spirit, the man from Brittany made a first selection, before Felix Gall countered him. He then fought for a kilometre to get back in the wheel of the Austrian but also of Jefferson Cepeda and Guillaume Martin. “He is used to managing his effort, but that does not mean that he wasn’t confident since he attacked after,” underlined Thierry. “It shows that he has a strong mindset, but we’ve known that for a long time.” After an attack from Guillaume Martin two kilometres from the top, Breton also accelerated to jump across. “I had studied the climb a bit and watched last year’s edition,” said David. “When Guillaume went, I knew I still had something left. I knew I had to make the difference before the flatter part because they could look at each other there. I joined him right before, I had time to recover and then I told myself that I had to attack with one kilometre to go.”

“A real explosion of emotions”, David Gaudu

Planned it, executed it. At the flamme rouge, on slopes rising above the 10%, the leader of Groupama-FDJ made another attack. Although he took a few metres at first, Cepeda and Martin did not give up straight away. He explained: “I told myself: go full-gas, have fun, don’t think. You have 600 meters to make the difference. If you explode, too bad, but at least you would have tried and wouldn’t have waited. I really wanted to do a strong finish. Mentally, I said to myself: this one is for you; today, nothing and no one will ruin your plans. Winner mode was on, and I had been looking for it for a long time.” Metre after metre, and with repeated accelerations standing on the pedals, the Frenchman gained ground to finally tackle the last, “flatter” 400 metres, with a solid margin. “I started to enjoy it while keeping pushing the pedals, but it was also easier to push,” smiled David. With 100 metres to go, he finally took the time to clench his fist of happiness, put his hands in the air and celebrate as he scored his first win of the year. “I was chasing a lot of things since the start of the season: getting back in shape, getting results, trying to win,” David listed. “It wasn’t going my way. So it’s a huge emotion, because I haven’t raised my arms since the 2022 Dauphiné. Putting your hands in the air is the thing we want the most in this job.”

A feeling he hadn’t experienced for almost two years and which a few setbacks distanced him from lately. “I’m just enjoying it, I’m over the moon,” he said. “I know that all my family and my girlfriend were watching. They saw me struggle for a year… Mentally, these last few months have been hard, I’m really happy to be back at my level. Winning here feels great. It’s a real explosion of emotions. I believe a lot in destiny, and maybe it has been playing tricks on me for a year to finally smile at me today. This will allow me to gain confidence, which I haven’t had lately. I am now looking forward to the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, then there will be Liège-Bastogne-Liège which is my favorite Classic and the Tour de Romandie. I have a very good block of races to come.” “He wasn’t necessarily stronger physically today, but he was stronger mentally, and by far,” added Thierry. “He won with his head, which is very encouraging for the future. After all the difficult months he’s been through, it’s good to get back on a positive path. We knew he was doing well since the start of the season, but circumstances meant that he couldn’t show it, and nothing replaces performance. For a rider, putting your hands in the air is a confirmation to all the work put in and the investment in training. It will boost him for the upcoming races. He’s not yet at his best level, but he’ll be able to work with the green lights on, and that’s always better.”

“We must stay humble and enjoy this momentum”, Thierry Bricaud

David Gaudu, however, will not line-up in the Tour du Doubs on Sunday, the last round of the triptych in Franche-Comté. Still, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team remains ambitious. “We’ve had a string of victories for ten days, we’re really on a good dynamic and we have to keep it going,” said David. “The team did what was expected of it, it took its responsibilities both yesterday and today. The boys can be proud of what they have done these last two days, and as they say: things always come in threes. That’s all I wish for them.”At the briefing on Friday, the riders told me that after coming second three times last year, we were going to come first three times this year,” concluded Thierry. “We will take stock tomorrow, but we must stay humble and enjoy this momentum. Tomorrow, the final climb is a bit less difficult, and it will undoubtedly be more open. We will have to race smart as we have been doing for two days and try to be in the final with Lenny.”

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