The Critérium du Dauphiné really started this Tuesday for the GC contenders, and David Gaudu was right on time. After quite a straightforward day, twenty riders or so fought for the win in Chastreix-Sancy at the top of the final climb. The French climber then perfectly found his way through the sprint and showed all his speed in the last 100 meters to beat Wout van Aert on the line! The Groupama-FDJ’s leader took his second win of the season and proves he’s back in top shape after a difficult spring. At the end of this third stage, he also sits in second place overall, six seconds behind Van Aert, while Kevin Geniets completed the team’s great day with a solid fifth place at the finish.
“I told myself: I’m gonna get him!”, David Gaudu
After two stages made for the punchers-sprinters, the third stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné offered a nice playground for the punchers-climbers on Tuesday, with a final climb of six kilometres in Chastreix-Sancy. But would there be a real fight on the eve of an important time trial for the general classification? With a big smile on his face, David Gaudu had his own answer. “I hope I can test myself and that I will have good legs”, he said to journalists. “We need to race day by day. We have nothing to lose, everything to gain.” The Groupama-FDJ cycling team therefore set off from Saint-Paulien with the clear goal of being up there in the final, thus leaving the breakaway to other teams. Sebastian Schönberger (B&B Hotels-KTM), Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X) and Thomas Champion (Cofidis) took the lead quite early on, before being joined by a B&B Hotels-KTM trio an hour later: Miguel Heidemann, Alexis Gougeard and Pierre Rolland. This group, however, never had a considerable lead due to the high tempo set by the team of yellow jersey Alexis Vuillermoz. In the long uphill section leading to the climb of Besse-en-Chandesse, the peloton kept the pressure, and even accelerated in a bumpy transition towards the bottom of the final climb of Chastreix-Sancy (6.2 km at 5.6%). “There always was a good pace”, noted Frédéric Guesdon. “The last 40-50 kilometres were not easy, it proved tiring for a lot of riders, and we always stayed safe in the bunch”.
In the lead, the last men standing from the breakaway tackled the final climb barely fifteen seconds ahead of the bunch, and the tempo set by the Jumbo-Visma definitively closed their attempt with just four kilometres to go. After being positioned by his teammates at the bottom, David Gaudu stayed attentive alongside the other big favourites. “We studied the end of the course well,” said Frédéric. “We knew the whole climb was going to be done with a tailwind, except for the last two kilometres. We wanted to be in a good position in the first part, without really being at the front, but then David had to move up with two kilometres to go. This is what happened”. At that point, the peloton was made up of only forty riders. Some other ten were dropped from the group before the summit following a few attacks that David Gaudu managed to follow. A reduced sprint was set to occur, and Kevin Geniets managed to hold on the wheels before moving himself back in the front in a rather flat last kilometre. “David was a bit blocked at first, and the final was pretty fast”, said Frédéric. “He did not have a great position, but he then used Kevin as a lead-out man”. 300 metres from the line, the Breton got into the wheel of the Luxembourger, and the sprint started a hundred meters further. David Gaudu continued the story: “When they launched the sprint, I was a little boxed in and a bit far, and I thought it was over. But I felt I had some power, so I gave it all. Wout was still up there but I saw him losing a few places in the climb before. When I realized that I could come back to him, I thought about that. I told myself that he was maybe tired, that I could perhaps get him… I came back with drafting, and I told myself: “I’m gonna get him!”. And that’s what I did!”
“I was almost the happiest of men”, David Gaudu
After slipping in-between several riders, David Gaudu came back next to Van Aert with much more speed. He then passed him over the line, as the Belgian rider was just beginning to celebrate. “David came back very quickly, and above all, he threw the bike, unlike Van Aert”, pointed out Frédéric. “I passed him before he even raised his arms,” David certified. Without even waiting for the photo-finish, the young man confidently screamed his joy. “When I crossed the line, I exploded, I was almost the happiest of men,” he said with a big smile. “After all the setbacks I experienced in the spring, it feels so good… I don’t have the words. I’m moved because I have been looking for such a victory since the start of the year. I told myself that if I could win on the Dauphiné, it would really be a relief. The team was amazing today, so a big thank you to them. I am very happy. My doubts are forgotten: there is always light at the end of the tunnel”. The young climber took his ninth career win, but this one had a special place. “When you’re French, winning in one of the three WorldTour races in France is quite something,” he said. “I was watching these races as a kid. Winning here is really important for me, especially in front of such competition”. “All victories feel great, but for sure David had been waiting for this one for a while”, added Frédéric. “Returning to victory makes him happy, and it makes everyone happy. This group has worked a lot lately. They were all in training camp together. It’s never easy to win races, so when you do, you appreciate it even all the more.”
The French rider also brought the sixth victory of the season for Groupama-FDJ and moved up to second place in the general classification. In the meantime, Kevin Geniets also put in a real performance by taking fifth place today. “Kevin has worked well, and he’s going well in this kind of climb”, added an unsurprised Frédéric. “He was a bit struggling with 1,500 meters to go but he took advantage of the downhill to get back. He managed to get fifth, and I’m happy for him, because he’s also someone who works a lot for the team”. Some hard work will undoubtedly be done again in the rest of the week, but on Wednesday, each rider will just face himself on the 32-kilometre time trial between Montbrison and La Bâtie d’Urfé. “It’s a tough one”, warns Frédéric. “It will be important for the overall and for the future. David will give everything, and we know that he has made good progress”. “We worked on the time trial, and I can’t wait to see how it will go”, concluded David. “Wout will start two minutes after me. Logically, if he doesn’t catch me, it should be a good performance (smiles). We will first enjoy a bit tonight before entering gradually in time trial mode”.