The longest stage of Paris-Nice into Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux will not be remembered as the liveliest day of the week. However, David Gaudu and his teammates made perfect use of the course to gain a few seconds. In the day’s only intermediate, the Frenchman was led-out by Kevin Geniets and Arnaud Démare to pick up six bonus seconds, just ahead of the sprinter and Tadej Pogacar. He remains second overall but is now six seconds behind the Slovenian as a hard weekend awaits the riders.
The profile at the start of stage 5 could have led to a nice fight to start the day, this Thursday on Paris-Nice. It did not. Despite a hilly terrain, only two men broke away after a few metres, and the peloton immediately let them go. Sandy Dujardin (TotalEnergies) and the wearer of the best climber’s jersey Jonas Gregaard (UnoX) therefore set off for a long journey at the head of the race. A journey which proved longer for the Frenchman than for the Norwegian, as the latter actually sat up after just fifty kilometres and the first three climbs. In the lead, the only fugitive was able to enjoy a maximal lead of six minutes, but the peloton easily managed its effort and brought him back almost 90 kilometres from the finish. “The weather conditions decided today’s scenario,” explained Philippe Mauduit. “There were more than 200 kilometres, quite straight, and with a headwind. This discouraged those who are used to going into the breakaways a bit, but we should not expect another scenario”. Therefore, the day was relatively calm in the bunch for a large part of the course. However, the tension briefly increased, for the first time with sixty kilometres to go approaching the bonus sprint, located at the top of a 3,500-meter climb averaging 4.5%.
“It was a small effort, it was worth going for it”, David Gaudu
The Groupama-FDJ team then took the lead. “The bonus seconds are important, and we have seen in recent years that Paris-Nice can be decided for a handful of seconds”, said Philippe Mauduit. “When you have the opportunity to gain some, you must not leave it to others”. “We were in a position to go for it, we knew there were seconds available, so we did go for it,” confirmed David Gaudu. A small lead-out train then set up. “First, Kevin did a great work”, said Philippe. “He accelerated from far and that prevented a lot of riders from coming back up. Then, Arnaud was masterful”. The former French champion started his effort a hundred metres from the line, with his leader as well as the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar in his wheel. “The fact that Arnaud joined the party was decided at the last moment, but it went pretty well”, added David. “I was able to pass to his left, and twenty meters from the line, I shouted at him to let me pass because I was there. In the end, it was a nice move, and it was fun to do”. The Groupama-FDJ leader therefore collected six seconds, his sprinter mate four and the yellow jersey two, allowing the Breton to bring back to six seconds his gap to Pogacar in the general standings. “The time we gain now is no longer to be gained. It was a small effort, it was worth going for it,” added David.
Subsequently, the peloton reorganized, and the last climb of the day did not make any difference due to the front wind. Another bunch sprint was set to happen. At the forefront in the final, Arnaud Démare and Miles Scotson did not however find a gap in the last two kilometres. “It was again a messy and difficult sprint,” added Philippe. “The task is hard for Miles and Arnaud. However, they fight, and they try. I am convinced that they will get there, but they have to find the right settings, and it is not easy in finishes as chaotic as today’s”. The Australian eventually crossed the line in sixteenth position, two ranks ahead of the former French champion. On Friday, a more selective final is on the menu towards La Colle-sur-Loup.