As he entered the second part of Paris-Nice, David Gaudu really wanted not to waste the excellent team time trial achieved on Tuesday. He didn’t fail. On the first summit finish of the “Race to the Sun”, onto La Loge des Gardes this Wednesday, the Groupama-FDJ’s leader even got the second place of the day, only beaten in the last meters by Tadej Pogacar. Thanks to a smart move in the last climb, the Breton also moved up to second place overall, ten seconds behind the Slovenian. The fight for the final podium is underway.

“A great team effort throughout the day”, Philippe Mauduit

The crucial days follow one another on Paris-Nice. In the aftermath of the decisive team time trial, another big test was looming from Saint-Amand-Montrond on Wednesday. Under changing and sometimes poor weather, the peloton was heading to La Loge des Gardes, where a climb of 6.8 kilometres averaging 7% was supposed to establish the first hierarchy amongst the leaders. The course leading to this last climb was not that straightforward, but behind the breakaway including Jonas Gregaard, Anders Skaarseth (Uno-X), Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroën), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto Dstny), Maurice Ballerstedt (Alpecin -Deceuninck), Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech), the Groupama-FDJ team proved to be very solid surrounding their French leader. “There was once again a great team effort throughout the day”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “The guys were there, always at the front, and it’s nice to see them having an impact on the race. The riders trust David and they all helped him. We crossed Vichy at full speed with Arnaud leading the whole team, while Ignatas and Miles worked at the start of the race. It was really nervous from time to time, there were some echelons, but the guys were in front”. “It was a tough day today”, testified David. “It was really hard and nervous with the wind, but I could rely on a strong team today. We were never caught behind, never worried. We even tried to start an echelon (smiles)”.

Despite some movements, the peloton was still complete starting the first climbs of the day, about sixty kilometres from the finish line. Tension kept on going, but many riders were dropped from the yellow jersey group. After climbing the Col du Beaulouis and heading to the bottom of the final climb, David Gaudu still had three teammates: Kevin Geniets, Stefan Küng and Rudy Molard. He was brought back to the front starting the Loge des Gardes climb by the Luxembourger and was therefore in a perfect position to do his thing. The group of favorites first gradually reduced, before Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar broke away for the first time four kilometres from the finish. “We didn’t really have to follow this first attack”, explained David, who rather stayed attentive to the rest of the group. He did well, since the two men up front looked at each other, which enabled the other favourites’ return with 3.5 kilometres to go. At this precise moment, David Gaudu decided to launch a sharp attack. “I recovered from the first part of the climb, we got the tailwind back, and I said to myself why not”, he said. “Either way, you might as well take a step ahead! I saw that I had no one in the wheel, and I told myself that it was even better”. “When they came back to Pogacar and Vingegaard, they slowed down a bit, and David was in an ideal position at that point to attack”, added Philippe. “So did he, and it allowed him to get a little head start on the fight that remained to be done in the back”.

“I finished second, but second to Pogacar”, David Gaudu

While managing his effort, David Gaudu was able to build a lead of almost twenty seconds, before Pogacar attacked again from behind just over two kilometres from the top. The Slovenian managed to drop his Danish rival and came back to the French climber a few moments later. “I knew there was the flat part after, so I wanted to hang on as much as possible when Pogacar came back”, continued David. “I thought that if he wanted to take time on Vingegaard, he was going to continue pulling”. “David had to stay in contact as long as possible and that’s what he managed to do,” confirmed Philippe. Therefore, the Groupama-FDJ rider and the double Tour winner entered the last hectometres together. Fifty meters from the line, the Breton tried to surprise the Slovenian, but the latter responded immediately and was able to claim victory. “He pulled and still beat me in the sprint, there is not much to say”, said David, second at one second. “He was stronger than me. I gave everything, so I finished second, but second to Pogacar”. “It was a great day and David concluded it well”, added Philippe. “It’s always better to win, but Pogacar was again stronger today. It’s still good to see David at this level, but we’re not surprised”.

On Wednesday, Tadej Pogacar and David Gaudu finished more than thirty seconds ahead of the third rider on the line, and the Frenchman therefore gained nine places overall to find himself in the runner-up position, ten seconds behind the yellow jersey. “I’m happy with my form but it was only the first test”, he said. “This test is passed, but we have to stay focused. There is a hard mountain top finish on Saturday and the Nice stage on Sunday. Overall, I was able to take a little more time from my competitors for the podium, and that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t put ourselves barriers, but we must remain clear-headed and race smartly. We will seize the opportunities when they arise, even if I will probably have less of them now”.

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