Despite the misfortunes, Groupama-FDJ fully joined the fight on the season’s fourth Monument this Sunday, on Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Rémy Rochas first spent part of the day in the breakaway, Valentin Madouas and Romain Grégoire then had to put in a first fight to come back to the peloton following a massive crash, while David Gaudu was ruled out because of a puncture after the côte de la Redoute. Romain Grégoire then joined the moves and was in contention for a podium spot for a long time. In the last kilometres, however, the chasing group expanded, and the French champion eventually competed in the sprint to take seventh place, two minutes after Tadej Pogacar.

The 2024 Spring Classics sequence was to come to an end this Sunday with Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Also known as “La Doyenne”, the event came as the last race of the Ardennes’ week, and the route was the same as previous years. The last hundred kilometers of racing therefore included nine classified hills, with the decisive côte de la Redoute thirty-five kilometres from the finish, and the côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons as the last difficulty with twelve kilometres to go. Although less demanding than the final, the first half of the race was still quite challenging and a breakaway of nine riders tackled it first. Up there, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team placed one of its men: Rémy Rochas. Under quite fresh temperatures, the French climber and his companions could enjoy a maximum lead of four minutes and a half, but the bunch quickly came close approaching the first series of climbs. A hundred kilometres from the finish, the gap was already reduced to a minute, and a few moments later, the first major event of the day took place under the eyes of Valentin Madouas and Romain Grégoire.

“You should never give up”, Valentin Madouas

After a rider slipped on a narrow road, a massive crash split the peloton in two and only forty riders or so could go clear. “Among our leaders, only David was in the first group,” said Benoît Vaugrenard. “In the back, they had to chase long and hard in the Wanne-Stockeu-Haute Levée sequence.” “We stayed really calm at the beginning because Pidcock, Van der Poel, and Vansevenant were with us,” added Romain. “But when the gap started to increase to one minute, we understood we couldn’t waste any more time.” “It forced us into a big chase,” confessed Valentin. “We never got discouraged. We know that it can always come back in Liège, and that you should never give up.” The team initially contributed to the pursuit with Clément Russo or Lorenzo Germani, then Romain Grégoire managed to follow the acceleration of Pidcock and Vansevenant after the côte de Stockeu. In the côte de la Haute Levée, the trio took advantage of Rémy Rochas working for the young Frenchman, and the latter managed to bridge across to the peloton right after the summit. In a second chasing group with Van der Poel among others, Valentin Madouas and Quentin Pacher came back a few moments later. “In the end, we managed to come back without spending too much energy,” said Romain Grégoire.

“It’s very frustrating”, Romain Grégoire

So, everything came back to “normal” with seventy kilometres to go, and Groupama-FDJ therefore had four cards in a bunch of around sixty riders. The peloton actually remained together in the following climbs, the Col du Rosier and the Côte de Desnié, despite the high tempo set by Tadej Pogacar’s teammates. A real fight for position then took place in the kilometres prior to the Côte de la Redoute, which Benoît Vaugrenard’s men entered slightly behind. As expected, Tadej Pogacar made his attack and quickly went alone. Behind him, some fifteen riders found themselves in a first chasing group, including David Gaudu and Romain Grégoire. However, the French climber then experienced a proper twist of fate. “He got very unlucky as he punctured at the worst possible time,” Benoît explained. Given the racing situation, he could not be helped out right away and got taken out of contention. In front, Romain Grégoire tried to be opportunistic, and made a few accelerations before joining a chasing group, first with Benoît Cosnefroy, then with Romain Bardet and Ben Healy. The four men worked well together and maintained a gap of 15-20 seconds on a small peloton chasing them, through the Côte des Forges, and up to the bottom of the final climb, the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons.

Distanced by Bardet on the hardest slopes, Romain Grégoire still held on quite well while a few competitors came back from behind approaching the summit. Behind Pogacar and Bardet, the chasing group grew to eight riders, then twelve, before the final uphill portion where the Groupama-FDJ rider dug deep to follow the wheels. In the downhill portion towards Liège, Van der Poel and Pidcock also managed to come back into the fight for third place, and then around ten men including Valentin Madouas also bridged across. Twenty-four riders therefore battled for the remaining podium spot and the top-10. The French champion managed to find a gap and to produce his sprint (7th), not his young teammate. “Romain did a very good race and deserved a top-5 finish,” said Valentin. “Personally, I never gave up, I gave everything I had in the climbs. In the sprint, we lost each other a bit and we didn’t manage to find ourselves again, but I’m happy with this performance.”“I didn’t find my way through to contest the sprint,” complained Romain. “Val still got a decent result, it’s better than nothing, but we could have done much better. Personally, it’s very frustrating to finish like this. I tried to make the right moves, to dare, I was in the mix until the last ten kilometres, and in the end, I found myself blocked in a thirty-man sprint. I feel a bit like I did 250 kilometres for nothing. It is annoying”.

“We deserved better”, Benoît Vaugrenard

The 21-year-old eventually got twenty-fourth place, which didn’t show his impact on the race. “I think we weren’t rewarded for our race,” concluded Benoit. “We experienced it all today, but Romain was very strong today. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off with a good result. Despite everything, this bodes well for the coming years. He is really made for these races. Without David’s puncture, we could have had numbers in the final. We’re left with mixed feelings. Fortunately, Valentin saved the day with this nice seventh place, but overall I think we deserved better.” “We wanted a podium in one of the Classics, and we didn’t achieve it, but I think we showed consistency in these races and that’s quite positive,” added Valentin.

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