On the 81st Paris-Nice this week, David Gaudu definitely laid down bases for the future. After fighting for the yellow jersey in the last days, the Frenchman eventually came up short against Tadej Pogacar on Sunday. Around Nice, the Slovenian proved to be the strongest, and the Groupama-FDJ rider, third in the stage, therefore secured his second place in the general classification. This is the Frenchman’s best performance in a WorldTour stage race, but also the first podium for the Groupama-FDJ team in the final classification of the “Race to the Sun” since Arthur Vichot in 2014 (3rd).
Twelve seconds. That was the gap between David Gaudu and Paris-Nice’s yellow jersey this Sunday morning, before the usual hilly stage around Nice. It was then time to leave it all on the road, which included 120 kilometres and five climbs on this last day of racing. Neck and neck with Tadej Pogacar at the top of the Col de la Couillole on Saturday, the Frenchman did not want to set himself any boundaries before this final fight, and the entire Groupama-FDJ team also wanted to be ambitious alongside him. “The first goal was to secure the podium but the second one was to take advantage of opportunities, or even create them, to turn the situation upside down”, explained Philippe Mauduit. That is why Stefan Küng slipped to the front of the race after the first climb of the day, after some twenty kilometres. “The goal was to put Stefan in front hoping that it would go quite far”, explained David. “Then, I was hoping to attack if I had good legs, but the breakaway didn’t take as much time as we hoped”. Constantly kept under the minute, the leading men were only thirty seconds ahead when they tackled the Côte de Peille, penultimate climb of the day with fifty kilometres to go. The yellow jersey group, made up of just twenty riders including Rudy Molard, Kevin Geniets and David Gaudu, closed this gap consequently.
“We can’t have any regrets”, David Gaudu
Stefan Küng got back in the “bunch” after the summit as the riders headed to the final climb of Paris-Nice, the well-known Col d’Èze (6 km at 7.6%). A few kilometres before tackling it, David Gaudu took third in the bonus sprint just behind the yellow jersey, thus losing two more seconds on him overall. Then, the bottom of the last climb quickly came for the riders, and after a high pace from the first slopes, Simon Yates made the first attack 4.5 kilometres from the summit. David Gaudu followed the moves easily, but couldn’t do anything, however, when the yellow jersey accelerated five hundred meters further on. “I didn’t have the same legs as yesterday, so when Pogacar went, I couldn’t follow”, he said. “I wanted to take my own pace on the steep part because I wanted to prevent any other attack, then I held on to the top. Today there was not much to do. Pogacar was stronger, congratulations to him”. “We are beaten by a stronger rider”, added Philippe. “There never was an opportunity. Pogacar was simply stronger than everyone on the final climb. I think he also wanted the stage win to establish his superiority over his rivals and make a point”. The Slovenian thus made a clear difference and started the final downhill with a comfortable lead of forty-five seconds.
In the first chasing group, David Gaudu did what he had to do to defend his second place overall before following other riders until the line. At the finish, the Groupama-FDJ leader took third place on the stage and thus sealed his beautiful second place overall. “We can’t have any regrets,” said David. “It’s a great result. You don’t have the chance to climb on the podium of Paris-Nice or a WordTour stage race every day. We would have signed for this result at the start. We are happy, the team has been committed from the first day until today, and especially on the team time trial. I think we showed great strength collectively, and I want to thank the team for trusting me this week. We raced to try to win, we just came across stronger than us. We still are on the Paris-Nice podium, it’s not so bad! I’ll keep many good memories from this week”. For the second time in his career after the UAE Tour 2019 (3rd), David Gaudu therefore reached the final podium of a WorldTour stage race. He also gained confidence for the future. “I realized over the week that I could compete with the best on certain occasions, and I will have to seize the opportunities whenever the form allows me,” he added.
“They realized they shouldn’t have any complex”, Philippe Mauduit
This fine week, which ended with the team’s best result in Paris-Nice since Sandy Casar, also second in 2002, and the first final podium since Arthur Vichot, third in 2014, could only lead to a great balance from Philippe Mauduit: “During our debriefing, we did not talk about regrets. We mostly emphasized the fact that the guys did a great job for eight days. They had an impact on the race every day, they never had to “deal with it”, they even had a head start at times. They worked very well as a team, and David took full advantage of it. As I said yesterday, having this collective strength alongside makes him even more confident. They say there is no great man without a great woman. It’s the same thing. There is no great leader without a great team. We said at the start that we wanted to be as close as possible from the podium. We knew since last year that David was very close to the best, but there was still a bit of work to do to fight with them. This week, he showed that he was capable of it, not only on one stage but throughout the whole week. His consistency is interesting. We will first enjoy what has been done on this Paris-Nice, retain all the lessons of what has worked well and work on the small details that we can improve”. Anyway, the whole group came out “on a high” from this 2023 “Race to the Sun”. “As some of them were saying this evening, they took habits this week and realized they shouldn’t have any complex”, concluded Philippe. “They showed that they have their place among the 3-4 best teams and that will obviously help to give them confidence for the next races”.