The first week of the Tour de France did not end in the best possible way for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team on Sunday. At the end of a hard and rainy mountain stage, David Gaudu certainly managed to limit his losses on his contenders at the Tignes’ summit finish, and also retained his place in the top 10 overall before the first rest day. However, Arnaud Démare and Jacopo Guarnieri were unfortunately unable to reach the finish line within the time limit and therefore had to leave the Tour earlier than expected.
“David still is in the mix”, Frédéric Guesdon
Although the distance to be covered was almost the same as on Saturday’s stage, the second alpine stage was expected to be much harder this Sunday, since it featured about 1,000 meters more of elevation gain. Between Cluses and Tignes, the riders indeed had to climb no less than 4,600m before seeing the first rest day. The very first kilometers, on the flat, proved to be rather calm and controlled, but the race soon went into pieces in the Domancy climb. “It was another huge stage, which was contested at very high speed,” summarized Frédéric Guesdon. “We expected this kind of scenario given the route and given the race situation. It is very open behind Pogacar, who’s dominating this Tour, and a lot of riders want to try from far. There are also a lot of leaders who missed their start to the Tour and who are now chasing stage wins. They do so by launching long-range attacks, and that makes the race very lively and very fast. The weather was not very good today either. It was rainy, it was cold over the summits and in the downhills, which made the race even harder. Fortunately, it was “only” 145 kilometers”.
The day’s breakaway went just before the intermediate sprint and initially gathered more than forty riders, including Stefan Küng. The best climbers then took the lead in the Col du Pré-Cormet de Roselend sequence while the yellow jersey’s teammates let them enjoy an eight-minute gap. This was more than enough for the stage victory despite the long ascent to Tignes, where Ben O’Connor took the better of his opponents. Within the bunch, David Gaudu could count on Valentin Madouas for a long time, and then held on with the best for most of the final climb. “I think David did a very good stage,” Frédéric said. “He got distanced 3-4 kilometers from the finish when Carapaz attacked, but there was only la crème de la crème at that point. He still doesn’t finish far from them. He might have expected better, but the Tour is not over yet. It is not the result at Tignes that matters, it is the one in Paris. For now, he’s still in the mix and we have no reason to panic”. Fourteenth in this ninth stage, about a minute behind his most serious rivals, the young Frenchman retained his place in the top 10 overall (10th) and is only two minutes away from the podium.
“I’m not sad”, Arnaud Démare
Unfortunately, the day ended with quite a disillusion as Arnaud Démare and his lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri finished out of the time limit. They got distanced four hours earlier on the first climb. “The hardest thing when you are dropped is to find yourself alone”, explained Frédéric. “However, they managed to enter the Cavendish group and we thought it was going to be ok”. “They struggled a lot in the climbs, especially in the Col du Pré-Cormet de Roselend sequence, which was extremely difficult for them,” added Yvon Madiot. “They lost the wheels of the gruppetto and they found themselves together in the back. In such circumstances, it is almost impossible to keep up the pace”. “Jacopo suffered even more on the last climb, Arnaud did not wait for him and they had to do their own race,” continued Frédéric. “They gave it their all but it was not enough. The time cut was not huge either: 37’30 on such a stage is certainly not easy for non-climbers. For sure it’s disappointing but they have no regrets because they gave 100% of themselves. They are obviously hugely disappointed; we all are, especially as we expected sprints on Tuesday and Thursday. Arnaud had not been able to show himself since the start of the Tour and he was really looking forward to these stages. In the end, he leaves this Tour without being able to show his real potential, which is all the more disappointing”.
“I have no regrets and I’m not sad because I just gave my all today, and there was nothing more I could do,” said the former French champion later at the hotel. “Since the crash, I am not 100%. On the Tour, you need to be. It was a really hard day and the weather did not help. I’ve still pushed 97% of my five-hour record, but I needed to top 100% to close the four minutes I’m missing today. Nothing went the way we wanted on this Tour. It’s cycling, and we know that the Tour is unforgivable”. “It’s a very sad day with the loss of Arnaud and Jacopo”, concludes Yvon. “However, we need to look at the positive side with David’s good performance. He’s still tenth overall and is ready to size any opportunity if they arise. This will help us bounce back. We’ve seen that the race is really open, so it will be up to us to make the most of it in the next two weeks”.