On Wednesday, on the toughest mountain stage of the 110th Tour de France, Groupama-FDJ gave themselves the means to succeed. In its quest for victory, the team managed to put Stefan Küng, Valentin Madouas, Thibaut Pinot but also David Gaudu in the day’s breakaway, which started the final and terrifying climb of the Col de la Loze in the lead. However, none managed to follow Felix Gall in the last kilometres of the climb. David Gaudu still fought hard and completed stage 17 in fifth place, just behind the yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard. Thibaut Pinot and Valentin Madouas took 11th and 13th in Courchevel. Overall, David Gaudu also lost a position on Wednesday (10th).
It was not the last mountain stage on the Tour, but it was definitely the biggest. On Wednesday, the riders had to cover 165 kilometres from Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc to Courchevel, but most importantly 5400 metres of elevation including the Col des Saisies, the Cormet de Roselend and the Col de la Loze before reaching the finish line on Courchevel altiport. On paper, a monstrous stage 17 was therefore looming. The reality just confirmed it. Firstly, it took almost fifty kilometres to see the breakaway establishing itself. Although Thibaut Pinot first tried his luck in the Col des Saisies, it all came back together at the top, then several groups managed to get a gap just before starting the Cormet de Roselend (20 km at 6%). Thibaut Pinot, Stefan Küng, Valentin Madouas and David Gaudu were then able to jump across the front of the race and enter a breakaway of about thirty men. Within the bunch, however, the yellow jersey’s team never completely eased off, and the gap was only one minute and a half after the second climb of the day. Thanks to a sustained tempo up front, the breakaway still managed to take almost three minutes before tackling the long and monstrous climb of the Col de la Loze (28 km at 6%), with 34 kilometres to go. The first gradients immediately reduced the group by half, but Thibaut Pinot, Valentin Madouas and David Gaudu were still in contention passing through Méribel, ten kilometres from the top.
“This is not what we were aiming for”, David Gaudu
Following the flat part halfway through the climb, the pace further increased, and seven kilometres from the summit, Felix Gall made an acceleration that no one could follow. “It was good to have four men at the front, because we could hope that the plan established this morning could work”, said Philippe Mauduit. “We tried to put something in place, but we realized that the riders couldn’t execute the plan because it was going very fast. When it’s like that, you do what you can, you give your best, and that’s what they did”. Valentin Madouas and Thibaut Pinot were dropped at first, then David Gaudu was also forced to let the Austrian go away. The man from Brittany then found himself with Pello Bilbao and did the rest of the climb with him before Jonas Vingegaard caught them very close to the summit. “I didn’t crack”, said David. “Otherwise, I couldn’t have followed Vingegaard when he came back. When he caught us, I just said to myself to follow him until the top”. Straight after, he tackled the short descent leading to the Courchevel altiport in the wheel of the yellow jersey, before crossing the line in 5th position following 300 metres at almost 20%. “We were in front to try to win the stage, I felt good, and I’m fifth in the end”, he said. “This is not what we were aiming for going into the break”. “We wanted to be offensive on this queen stage, we gave our best and we have no regret”, explained Valentin, who arrived thirteenth. “David was in a good day but came against stronger. On a climb like this, there is no surprise. We still had fun and we showed a good spirit for this last day in the Alps”.
“We’ll keep this fighting spirit”, Philippe Mauduit
Eleventh on the day, four minutes from the winner, Thibaut Pinot added: “We were aiming for the stage victory, and we missed a little something to get it, but it was a crazy stage. It is not far from the top-5 of the hardest stages I’ve done in my career”. “Our boys have nothing to be ashamed of, but Gall and Yates were a step higher”, said Philippe. “What they did is still very decent, but they, like us, hoped for better than the eventual result”. With three men in the top-15 of the queen stage of the Tour de France, Groupama-FDJ was right up there on Wednesday, but they didn’t get the greatest reward and David Gaudu also lost a rank in the general classification. The young man is now in tenth place while only one important stage for the GC remains on the menu, Saturday, in the Vosges mountains. “It’s a hard Tour, confessed David. “We came with a goal for the general and it will not be fulfilled. That’s how it is. On some Tours, everything is going really well, on others a little less. But we do our best every day. The legs are there from the start, but cycling is not an exact science”. Philippe Mauduit concluded: “David is fighting, he’s combative and does not give up. He still has the ambition to get a stage win and he was understandably upset that he couldn’t do it today. That said, there are still a few stages before reaching Paris. Tomorrow is probably made for the sprinters, but the day after tomorrow not necessarily and Saturday even less. We’ll keep this fighting spirit”.