The third stage of the Vuelta did not start the best way for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. On Thursday, Thibaut Pinot was forced to leave the race due to severe and persistent back pain following his crash on the Tour. The team then got back on the road without the Frenchman and gathered around David Gaudu in another stage for climbers. The young rider from Brittany, who seems to get better every day, was able to stay with the best until the last kilometre. He eventually lost 30 seconds but he’s definitely on the right track.

“We said we would not push it”, Jacky Maillot

On Thursday morning in Lodosa, only seven riders of the Groupama-FDJ formation climbed on the signature podium. Suffering from his back since the start of the event, Thibaut Pinot was forced to leave his teammates before the third stage of the Vuelta. “We noticed an improvement a little after his post-Tour de France break, and because of this improvement, Thibaut had made the bet to come to the Vuelta to go for a stage win”, explained the team doctor Jacky Maillot. “We knew there was a risk, and we said we wouldn’t push it if it got complicated. Training never replicates racing circumstances and these circumstances eventually triggered the pain again quite quickly. So it didn’t make sense to insist. The wisest decision was to stop. This type of lesion is less spectacular than a fracture, but micro cracks also take a long time to heal. Above all, the sacroiliac joint is very used when you’re making efforts, either when pushing a big gear or standing up on the pedals. We are not going to delay again the complete healing of his injury and jeopardize the start of the 2021 season. He will therefore now take six weeks of full rest”.

Obviously “disappointed” to end the season in this way, the French climber has already said that his “2021 season begins today” while wishing the best to his teammates still racing, in Italy or in Spain. On the Vuelta, precisely, the group stayed gathered around David Gaudu in the third stage. First, a breakaway of five riders took the lead before being caught with 60 kilometers to go. Then, four other riders went up front until the bottom of the final climb to La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa (8.6 km at 5.8%). After being constantly held in the front positions over the second half of the stage, David Gaudu was able to fight with the favorites in the finale. “It was a good day and I got a lot of support from the whole team today,” he commented afterwards. “At first there was a possibility of echelons but we were there in front at the right time. Then, in the end, it came down to the legs. It wasn’t a climb that suited me especially but I was happy to be there. My form is increasing little by little”. David Gaudu stayed with about ten GC contenders until the last kilometre before he struggled in the last hundred meters. He still took an encouraging eleventh place on the line, 36 seconds behind winner Dan Martin.

“We can’t wait for the next rounds”, David Gaudu

“We knew it was going to be a bit difficult at the beginning, but still, David is getting better every day”, said Philippe Mauduit. “The group is united and works well around it. Today the mission was to get him to the bottom of this last climb as well as possible, and it was well done by the guys. He certainly cracked a little in the finale but we can see that he is getting closer to the best and that’s good for the rest of the race”. “We can’t wait for the next rounds,” said David Gaudu. “I think the guys also have fun riding at the front of the pack. Anyway, there is a good spirit in the team. As for me, I see that I’m slowly getting to my level. We also saw some riders cracking and there will surely be more in the big mountain stages. At the end of the day, the Vuelta is still quite open”. The mountain will come back this weekend on the Vuelta after sprinters’ stage on Friday, but there won’t be the Tourmalet on Sunday however due to new restrictions due to the Covid-19 situation. “It will still be a mountain top finish (in Formigal, note) and there will therefore be a fight”, concluded David. “I will still need to be there”.

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