David Gaudu surely deserves his spot on the provisional podium of Paris-Nice. The Frenchman again demonstrated it on Saturday on the week’s greatest summit finish. In the Col de la Couillole, on stage 7, the climber from Groupama-FDJ proved the strongest among the favorites, together with the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar. He even tried to attack him a few times, but victory was eventually decided in a sprint, and the Slovenian took it like on Wednesday. Second at the top, David Gaudu strengthened his second place overall, twelve seconds behind Pogacar, before the traditional hilly stage around Nice on Sunday.
“The team was flawless”, Philippe Mauduit
After an unexpected rest day on Friday, a nice mountain stage was on the riders’ menu this Saturday in Paris-Nice. Most importantly, a proper climb was set to host the fight between the favourites, with no less than fifteen kilometres averaging 7% to reach the summit of La Couillole, final climb of the day. David Gaudu started the stage as the runner-up to the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar, being just six seconds behind the Slovenian, which made him the main rival to the double Tour winner. The Frenchman honoured his status and role all day at the front of the pack, after what first was a lively start to the race. “It was very fast, Arnaud made the effort to try to get into the breakaway, which he did”, said Philippe Mauduit. “Then, we hit the first climb and it was a bit difficult but having him in front at this point in the race was interesting. All the big teams then tried to set their pace.” In the short but twisty climb of Villars-sur-Var, Ineos Grenadiers tried to split the bunch, but the Groupama-FDJ was never put in trouble thanks to a perfect positioning. “It’s the snowball effect”, said Philippe. “All the team riders realize that David is capable of meeting the expectations, and they all think they can’t mess it up because he won’t. David thinks the same when he sees the work done by his mates all day”. “We knew the terrain, and I think we rode well”, added Rudy Molard. “We were always in front, trying to save energy and avoid the accelerations”.
This especially allowed the Breton to approach the final climb of the Col de la Couillole in excellent conditions, while the breakaway was just a minute ahead. “We didn’t show ourselves too much in the first part of the race, but we were up there at the bottom of the last climb, with Rudy, Stefan, Kono, Kevin and David”, said Philippe. “The first goal was to make sure that David was able to go for victory at the bottom of the final climb. From this point of view, the team was flawless”. And so started the last fifteen kilometres of the day, uphill. Jumbo-Visma took control while David Gaudu was able to benefit from the support of Kevin Geniets and Rudy Molard for a few kilometres. The yellow jersey group quickly came down to the main GC contenders and the last man standing from the break was caught. With a headwind for most of the climb, the big attacks eventually started six kilometres from the finish, through Tadej Pogacar. David Gaudu took his own pace and made it across together with Jonas Vingegaard four kilometres from the top, before going on the attack himself! “I tried today because I felt really good”, explained David. “Mentally, I really wanted to do something, I was very motivated. I didn’t want to have any regrets and tell myself that I could have followed them. I shouldn’t be afraid to attack. Last year, I was more trying to take my rhythm. This week and this year, we are trying to respond to attacks, or to attack”. In the last four kilometres, the Groupama-FDJ climber did take the initiative on a few occasions, but Tadej Pogacar always responded immediately while Jonas Vingegaard struggled a bit more.
“I enjoyed being able to attack them”, David Gaudu
After a sharp attack just over two kilometres from the top, the Frenchman and the Slovenian passed the flamme rouge a few meters ahead of the Dane, but the latter returned in the mix for victory, which was eventually decided in a sprint. The last winner of the Tour started from far, but Pogacar again made full use of his explosiveness while David Gaudu had to settle for second place at the top, as at La Loge des Gardes. “It’s really great to see the team working like this for me, so I’m sorry not to bring back the victory,” added David. “It was a nice climb. We tried, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. In the sprint, he was once again stronger, I don’t think I made any mistakes. I’m happy to be at this level and I really enjoyed being able to attack them. Even if it did not work, we must take the positive out of this race. It shows that the team can trust me and that I am not afraid to fight with the best. We also gained time in the general standings on the other podium contenders”. “Every time he tries, he gets closer to the best”, said Philippe. “Pogacar is still a little faster than him in the sprint, but we saw that he was not as dominant as the other days. This is one of the first times he challenged him for victory in a mano a mano, on a summit finish. It shows him that it will be possible to beat him one day. This is an important sequence for David and Groupama-FDJ”.
The last stage, on Sunday, will also be of the utmost importance since David Gaudu remains second overall in the “Race to the Sun”, just twelve seconds behind the yellow jersey. “We have seen in the last years that this final stage makes Paris-Nice uncertain until the finish line”, concluded Philippe Mauduit. “This stage is usually extremely hard, fast, and opens up very early. I don’t see why the scenario would be different this year. David deserves a little better than a second place, but we have another stage tomorrow. We still have to believe in it”.