Stage 18 of the Tour de France, which took the riders through the Col du Tourmalet before the mountain top finish at Luz Ardiden, was the last chance for David Gaudu to raise his arms. So the Frenchman fully committed to it. With the help of Valentin Madouas, the leader of Groupama-FDJ then tried a long-range attack from the Tourmalet. Although he started the final climb with a small gap over the yellow jersey group, it did not prove enough on Thursday. A winner of the combativity prize and still eleventh overall, the young climber bravely played his cards anyway. Until the very end.
“I had this plan in mind since the evening of the Ventoux stage”, David Gaudu
For the “lightweights” of the Tour de France, today was the last day to leave everything on the road. Through the legendary Col du Tourmalet and the iconic climb of Luz Ardiden, the last Pyrenean stage of the Grande Boucle was also the last one for the climbers. Although the fight was only going to last “only” 130 kilometers, it was surely going to be intense. It was indeed, as many attacks occurred in the first kilometres on the flat. A breakaway did establish itself after about twenty kilometers, but it only included five riders and was kept under control by the peloton. “We initially thought about putting Valentin and Bruno in the breakaway,” said David Gaudu. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a breakaway”. After some very fast sixty kilometres, Bruno Armirail passed through his hometown in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, and the peloton quickly got to the bottom of the col du Tourmalet. One minute behind a duo made of Alaphilippe and Mohoric, Groupama-FDJ did not wait long to get into the action, first sending Valentin Madouas up front.
“I had this plan in mind since the evening of the Ventoux stage,” explained David Gaudu. “We clearly wanted to make a coup in the Tourmalet. I knew we had to attack from far to beat the main favourites. Valentin managed to attack at the bottom and did a strong ride”. “We wanted to make the race harder on the Tourmalet to try something, then see how the bunch would react”, added the puncher from Brest. “I tried early on, I made a big effort to get back to the chasers and I might have lost a bit of energy to drag David a little further on the summit”. Back on the wheel of his teammate after having easily detached himself from the bunch, David Gaudu first took advantage of Madouas’ work to come back to the leading duo. Then, the group maintained a small gap on the reduced peloton led by the Ineos team. David Gaudu decided to take things in hand five kilometers from the top and eventually reached it with only Pierre Latour on his wheel. The gap was almost of a minute at that point, and he almost immediately got rid of his last opponent in the downhill. “We did what we had to do with Valentin,” said David. “Unfortunately, there was a bit of headwind at the end of the descent, which took its toll on me with Ineos pulling in the back for the stage victory”.
“I preferred to go all-in than finish fifth”, David Gaudu
Despite a good ride down to Luz-Saint-Sauveur, David Gaudu only started Luz Ardiden’s final climb with twenty seconds or so on the yellow jersey group. Ineos still had some domestiques at this point in the race, and the Frenchman had to drop back in the small peloton with ten kilometers to go. He held on in the wheels for five kilometers but then had to let the group go, paying for his previous efforts. The young climber finished in nineteenth position at the top, more than two minutes behind the winner Tadej Pogacar. “Looking at the gaps, I knew the top 10 wasn’t within my reach, so I finished quite easy,” he explained. “Unfortunately our attempt did not work out, but I left my mark on the race. I wanted to try to win, and I saw yesterday that some were stronger if it came down to the legs. So we had to play differently. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe I would have been fifth if I had stayed with the favourites, but today I preferred to go all-in than finish fifth”. “We’re a bit disappointed, but not that much,” Valentin agreed. “It didn’t work out but we gave it our all with David. We had fun also, and that is the most important. We would have liked to win this stage, but it was not meant to be”.
David Gaudu was still able to climb on the official podium as he got the combative award, and he also retained his eleventh spot overall with three stages to go. “I’m happy with my last week, and I’m now looking towards the Olympics”, he said. “David is finishing this Tour very strong, both physically and mentally,” said Marc Madiot. “We obviously have some regrets because it hasn’t gone well for us since the start of the race. However, even being down to four, the guys got back on track, stayed united and did not go down. On the contrary. And I really liked it”. A rather flat stage is now looming on Friday, before a time trial on Saturday, which Stefan Küng is much looking forward to.