Groupama-FDJ once again experienced quite a thrilling day on Thursday in the Tour de France, on the very last mountain stage of this 2022 edition. Between Lourdes and Hautacam, Thibaut Pinot and Valentin Madouas first managed to enter the break in the Col d’Aubisque, but both later helped David Gaudu to make a comeback in the overall standings. In the final climb, the young man from Brittany was able to go clear from Nairo Quintana and grab fourth place in the general classification with three stages to go. This evening, Valentin Madouas and Thibaut Pinot also sit in the top-15 overall.

One last big piece of mountains before the home straight to Paris. This is surely how most of the riders approached stage 18 of the Tour, in the Pyrenees, from Lourdes to Hautacam. However, the breakaway was as usual long to establish, and the peloton had to fight for about sixty kilometres before things settled down a bit in the first slopes of the Col d’Aubisque, the first climb of the day (17k at 7%, HC). Up front within a large group of fugitives, Valentin Madouas was soon joined by Thibaut Pinot, who counterattacked from the bunch. Things kind of calmed down halfway through the climb, and while the French duo managed to follow the best climbers of the break, David Gaudu could still count on his five other teammates although the yellow jersey group was already quite reduced at that point. “When you see that we have two men in the breakaway and six in the favourites group at the top of the Aubisque, it’s not bad at all”, proudly said Marc Madiot later. “The guys did great again today”, added Philippe Mauduit. “I think that gave David a certain peace of mind.” At the top of the Col d’Aubisque, Thibaut Pinot took second place. He then tackled the Col de Spandelles (10 km at 8.3%) with Valentin Madouas and a dozen other fugitives, with a lead close to four minutes on the yellow jersey.

“There are days like this, when everything goes well”, David Gaudu

However, the fight for the yellow jersey indeed started shortly afterwards, which almost ruined the chances of the leading men. Yet, Thibaut Pinot held on to the wheels of Van Aert and Dani Martinez all the way to the top and was therefore part of a 3-man breakaway. Within the bunch, David Gaudu did not panic when Tadej Pogacar started the attack, and he very quickly found himself with his direct rivals. “My fight was not with the first three but with the others”, said the young man. “So I stayed with them.” The Frenchman also maintained the gap to a minute or so to the yellow jersey group, both in the climb and in the downhill of the Col de Spandelles. At the bottom of Hautacam (13.5 km at 8%, HC), his teammate Thibaut Pinot was still sailing two minutes ahead of Vingegaard and Pogacar. The margin was however not enough to play the win. “I was already happy to be with Van Aert at the top of Spandelles, and I knew that I could then help David”, said Thibaut. “I wanted to go as far as possible in Hautacam in order to help him later. When I was told that they were coming back fast, I understood that my role was to wait for David. The hope of fighting for the stage lasted two kilometres but it was not the most important thing today”. Nine kilometres from the summit, the three-time Tour stage winner was distanced and then waited for his leader.

A little further down, the latter could already count on the support of Valentin Madouas, back with his lifelong mate on the first slopes of Hautacam. “David played it right and attacked Quintana just before getting back to Valentin”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “This allowed them to make the gap on the group they were in and to chase the Thomas group. Valentin stopped his pull just before David reached Thibaut. It went well”. After having distanced his Colombian rival, Gaudu therefore tried to gain as much time as possible. Just over five kilometres from the summit, he therefore joined Thibaut Pinot who pushed for him for almost two kilometres. “I gave a hand, even if I would have liked to go even further, to do more”, said Thibaut. “Anyway, I couldn’t pedal anymore when I left him. I gave everything”. “I again could count on a great Valentin and a great Thibaut”, said David. “The hardest thing, eventually, was to leave Nairo behind. But there are days like this, when everything goes well: I attacked Nairo, I dropped him, I came back to Valentin, Valentin pulled, I came back to Thibaut, Thibaut pulled, and I left everything I had on the road. It went perfectly.” In the final, the young man even came back to Geraint Thomas and continued to widen the gap to finally take fifth place on the line, almost three minutes ahead of Nairo Quintana.

“Quite an adventure”, Thibaut Pinot

After stage 18, David Gaudu is therefore in fourth place overall, 2’30 ahead the Colombian, fifth. “The first three are stronger, I have nothing to be ashamed of,” David said. “By Sunday, they will all have won at least one Tour. Personally, I have never finished in a top-5 on a Grand Tour. This will hopefully be my first. I think I would have agreed for that at the start. In any case, I am proud to be in this place right now, but there are two days left and we will stay focused because anything can happen”. “We saw great team work today,” underlined Marc. “We were up there. Riders and staff really gave their best. It’s a nice moment to experience. We are just outside of the podium this evening”. The mountains are now behind while a probably lively “transition” stage and the final time trial in Rocamadour are next before the Champs Élysées. “I’m happy to complete the mountains in a good way”, concluded Thibaut. “David climbed to fourth place, so it’s a very good day for us. Even if I have never been at 100% personally on this Tour, we still had quite an adventure with the team. That’s what we have to remember.” One can also remember that three days from the end, Valentin Madouas (12th) and Thibaut Pinot (15th), both sit in the top-15 of the general classification.

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