It was one of his main goals for 2024. After five victories in his first professional season, Romain Grégoire aimed for a win at the WorldTour level this year. After three months of competition, the young Frenchman fulfilled his goal on Friday in stage 5 of the Tour of the Basque Country. At the end of a very fast and hilly day, the 21-year-old puncher outsprinted a group of about thirty riders with the decisive help of Quentin Pacher. Now “relieved”, he will tackle the final stage of the Spanish race in fifth position overall.

The first hour of racing, covered at an average speed of 54 km/h, immediately set the tone for the fifth stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. The peloton wanted a fight, and this resulted in a day without rest. “It went very, very fast,” said Benoît Vaugrenard. “At kilometre 80, we got to a really hard first climb, of five kilometers at 10%.  It started to explode, and some leaders attacked.” “We’re not used to this type of stage,” added Romain. “It went really fast all day, there wasn’t any proper breakaway. This climb halfway through also made it harder and we were already tired when we got to the finishing circuit, which was not easy either.” After an early move, Sepp Kuss and Isaac del Toro were caught before the first lap of the circuit: twenty-six kilometres long and including the Muniketagaina climb (3.4 km at 7.3%). The fight kept on going in this difficulty, and Quentin Pacher managed to follow the accelerations at the top. After the descent, the front group was caught, but Rémy Rochas then slipped into another move with four men including Michal Kwiatkowski. “Quentin went with a lap and a half to go, then Rémy also took a step ahead,” said Benoît. “We wanted to be aggressive, and they did a very good race.”

“It went as we planned”, Benoît Vaugrenard

Rémy Rochas could start the last climb with a small margin over the bunch and was even the last man from his group to be caught by the favourites. Approaching the summit, the attacks came and only some twenty riders were still up there for the last 13 kilometres. Romain Grégoire managed to enter the right move, and he was joined by Quentin Pacher a few moments later. “I really had to fight on every climb”, said the young Frenchman. “I didn’t have my best legs, so it was really hard. But once I came over the last climb, I knew I had my chance.” “We thought that it could end with a sprint of 30 to 50 riders,” added Benoît. “For us, the fewer there were, the better. Fortunately, the speed made the race very difficult.” Thirty-four riders ultimately formed the leading peloton after the last downhill, before Brandon McNulty attempted a solo raid. However, the American was caught before the last three kilometres and all was set for a sprint. “Quentin guided me really well in the final, I trusted him 100% in the last five kilometers, and he led me out until the last 500 metres,” said Romain. “I tried to position him and move as best as possible to put him in the best conditions in the last kilometre,” added Quentin. “There was a small attack inside the final kilometre, I followed, then I tried to get as close as possible after the last corner before launching him.”

At 500 metres, Quentin Pacher took the last turn in fourth position, with his young teammate in his wheel. “They played it very well,” said Benoît. “We had to be in the first 4-5 in the corner then give everything until the line and not hesitate. From that point of view, it went as we planned. What we decided happened. It was a group of thirty, which was ideal for us. Yet, we still had to finish it off.” In the last metres, Romain Grégoire then tried to do so. In his own words: “I told Quentin to go as soon as he could, but it was a tough sprint. I think we were all at the limit. Schachmann had a small gap, so I really had to push hard until the line.” Shoulder to shoulder with the German, the Frenchman threw his bike while Orluis Aular came back at full speed from behind. At the finish, no one knew who the winner was. “I crossed the line thinking I had passed Schachmann on the left, but I didn’t know at all about Aular,” said Romain. “I waited two or three minutes; it was quite strange. Then the cameraman came first to tell me I won, but I didn’t know if I could believe him 100%. Then everyone told me it was confirmed, and then it was just pure joy. It’s quite special to enjoy a victory like that, but it’s not bad (smiles). We could share it all together.”

“I ride a bike to win races”, Romain Grégoire

By a few centimetres, Romain Grégoire took his first win of the year, Quentin Pacher finishing fourth despite all his work. “It was close, but it was enough,” said the latter. “The TV cut out a kilometre from the finish, so we waited,” said Benoît. “When you start hearing shouting on the radio, that’s a pretty good sign. Then we saw that the TV was on Romain, Quentin asked me on the radio if we had any news, then we saw ‘Romain Grégoire winner’ on the screen. From that moment on, it was just happiness.” For the young man, this happiness was quite obvious also in his first comments. “It feels really good, I’m really relieved,” he said straight away. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to win races, that’s really why I ride a bike. Until the first victory of the year comes, I’m a little tense. Having a season without a win is my biggest fear. It will take some weight off my shoulders and allow me to be more relaxed in the next races. It’s also my first victory in the WorldTour, and it obviously means something. It was my goal for the season, so it’s nice to be able to achieve it. I will remember it.”

The Groupama-FDJ cycling team also scored its fifth success of the season. “To launch a good momentum with a victory feels great, and that’s always what we’re looking for,” said Quentin. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck since the start of the season, we’ve had several injured riders, and this Tour of the Basque Country summed up a bit what we were experiencing, with David abandoning on the second day”, said Romain. “We managed to remotivate ourselves. The team protected me and trusted me. Today, I thank them in this way, and it gives us a little boost. Benoît told us that you judge a great team by how it bounces back after tough times, and that’s what we did today.” “We were wondering when things would finally go our way,” said the group’s sports director. “Today, it did, and we must enjoy these moments. It’s never easy to win in the WorldTour, or even to win in general. After David abandoned, we had to get going again and I immediately felt that the team wasn’t discouraged at all. This is really important. It shows that you shouldn’t give up. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not, but you need to be patient and get back up. This is what makes this sport a bit magical. We now hope to be back on track, here and on the other races.”

On the Tour of the Basque Country, the last stage on Saturday should significantly change the general classification, in which Romain Grégoire now sits fifth thanks to the bonus seconds. “Tomorrow’s stage is super hard, a real stage for climbers and strong guys,” concluded the young man. “I’m placed overall, so I’ll try to hang on as long as possible and we’ll see what it brings tomorrow night. I would like to come away with a good overall, but the week is already successful anyway.”

No comment