The real fight for the general classification started on Wednesday in the Tour of the Basque Country. Throughout a challenging course made of steep climbs, David Gaudu managed to be right in the mix in this first major test of the week. The French climber was able to follow a group of a dozen favourites who broke away in the final and could also join in the battle for the stage victory. In the sprint, he eventually placed 4th, and moved up to eleventh place overall.

As the breakaway almost came away with victory yesterday, a lot of riders were interested in the attacking option at the start of the third stage on Wednesday. This therefore led to a big fight over more than forty kilometres. “The first hour and a half was very fast and very intense”, confirmed Philippe Mauduit. “At that point, our goal was just to protect David”. Only three men eventually managed to get away after this furious start: Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates), Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) and Cristian Rodriguez (TotalEnergies). Everything eased off for some fifty kilometres, but the pace picked up again about 80 kilometres from the line, as the riders approached the demanding circuit around Amurria, the finish city. Several climbs were to be tackled, with the most decisive ones being at Opellora (1.1 km at 13%) and Ozeka (3.6 km at 7.3%). “We had to make sure David was out of danger approaching the climbs,” continued Philippe. “On this kind of road, you are more likely to avoid problems if you stay at the front with the whole team around you. His mates did their part one after the other and did great until the final fight. Ignatas and Anthony did a great job at the start of the race, just like yesterday, and when it started to get very hard, the climbers took over. Antoine managed to hold on well to give them a hand between the first and second loops”.

“I had to make it”, David Gaudu

After it was reduced by half following the first climbs, the peloton calmed things down a bit. It enabled the sole break’s survivor, Oscar Rodriguez, to get a four-minute lead. However, this gap quickly narrowed when the peloton got going again approaching the climbs for the second time. The yellow jersey group was further reduced in the “wall” of Opellora, but the final cut took place on the slopes of Ozeka. David Gaudu dug deep to follow the various attacks but did manage to reach the top with the main favourites, about twenty kilometres from the line. All of them caught the last fugitive, and although a few attempts occurred in the final, no one proved able to go away. It all came down to a sprint, and Pello Bilbao took the win as David Gaudu obtained a fine fourth place. “It was a tough race”, said the Frenchman. “I felt that I still lacked a lot of race rhythm. I was not in a very good day, but in the end, I made it. I had to. I felt better in the last 5-6 kilometres, and it is anyway positive ahead of the coming days”. “It’s a good day”, claimed Philippe. “There is a high level of climbers here, so being able to finish in this group and net a nice placing is reassuring. Especially since it really came down to legs”.

Sébastien Reichenbach, Rudy Molard and Bruno Armirail finished about two minutes later in a chasing group. “Sébastien was not far from David’s group at the top of the last climb, he only missed about fifteen seconds”, noted Philippe. “However, the descent was very fast. Once he was caught by another group, it was no longer up to him to pull. He just followed until the line, then Rudy and Bruno got back. Anyway, it shows that we have a homogenous team”. In the general classification, David Gaudu climbed to eleventh place on Wednesday, thirty-two seconds behind the leader Primoz Roglic. Tomorrow, the terrain will be once again quite hilly in the Basque Country. “The final is not easy at all”, warned Philippe. “In the last thirty kilometres, there are two hard climbs. Even if the top of the last one is located twenty kilometres from the finish, there could still be a fight between the big guys”.

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