Just as he did on stage 2 of the Vuelta, Romain Grégoire had great ambitions for the eleventh stage leading to Laguna Nera on Wednesday. And like the second day (7th), the French puncher was up there. After a big fight during the first hour of racing, he first managed to get to the front with Rudy Molard and Lewis Askey, in a breakaway of twenty-six riders who went on to fight for victory in the day’s only climb. Still in contention for the win with 300 metres to go, the former European Juniors champion was only beaten by Jesus Herrada in the final sprint. On the line, he took second place, his first podium on a Grand Tour. Rudy Molard crossed the line in seventh position and Lenny Martinez followed the favorites to the top, thus securing his fifth place overall.

For Romain Grégoire and the Groupama-FDJ cycling team as a whole, the ambition was clear on Wednesday at the start of Lerma and towards La Laguna Negra (6.5 km 6.7%) in Vinuesa. “We planned to fight for the stage win today, as it suited the break”, explained Benoît Vaugrenard. The first mission was therefore to make it to the front, but a large part of the peloton had a similar goal on Wednesday, which therefore led to a fierce and continuous fight for more than an hour. It took a good number of attacks and fifty kilometres for a group to finally break away. “We wanted to have Romain, Rudy or Michael in front”, added Benoît. “In the end, we had two out of these three, plus Lewis”.The fight lasted for a long time, on a rather flat profile, so it was really not easy”, completed Rudy. “We kept on fighting, and we managed to join the break with two good cards. It was a good start.” “Everything was perfect”, also added Romain. “We had Rudy and me for the final climb and Lewis to close the gaps and help us as best he could in the valley”. In the 26-rider breakaway, the Groupama-FDJ trio especially found the company of Geraint Thomas, Filippo Ganna, Jesus Herrada, Andreas Kron, Andrea Piccolo, Luis Leon Sanchez and Jonathan Caicedo.

“I decided to sacrifice myself”, Rudy Molard

As nobody in front was a threat for the general classification, the peloton let it go. The gap quickly reached four minutes, and even got close to six minutes in the last hour of racing. The breakaway also maintained quite a good collaboration for a while, on rather flat terrain until the final climb. The first offensives occurred in the final fifteen kilometres, but Lewis Askey made sure to cover the moves for his teammates. Approaching the final climb of Laguna Negra, Paul Ourselin anticipated the big fight, but right from the first slopes, Filippo Ganna took the lead of the group to set a very solid pace and reduce the breakaway. Halfway through the climb, only eight men could hold his wheel, including Romain Grégoire and Rudy Molard. The Italian kept control until the last 1500 metres, where the gradients got higher, and the first attacks happened. Rudy Molard briefly tried to make his way into the lead before Jonathan Caicedo took a few metres gap when passing under the flamme rouge. “When he went, one of us had to sacrifice and I decided to make the effort,” said Rudy. “The final was explosive, and Romain could go for the win, so I decided to sacrifice myself”. After Rudy Molard’s strong pull, Romain Grégoire followed Geraint Thomas’s wheel and four men came back close to the South American rider with 300 metres to go.

“I can’t be disappointed”, Romain Grégoire

At this very moment, Jesus Herrada decided to launch the final sprint. Romain Grégoire did try to hold his wheel, but unsuccessfully. The Spaniard therefore went to take victory, and the young Frenchman had to settle for second place at the top. “I think I did everything well”, said Romain shortly after the line. “I can’t even be disappointed, because when Herrada passed me, I couldn’t do anything. He was the strongest. We know he is strong in this kind of scenario, and he proved it. I was up there, but just below him. Too bad. You don’t make a record list with second places, but I have no regrets today”. “We came across a more experienced and more resistant rider than us”, also greeted Benoît. “Romain fought very well and Rudy was exemplary once again. Whether with Lenny or Romain, he does a great work on this Vuelta”. After his seventh place in Barcelona on the second day, Romain Grégoire scored his first podium in a Grand Tour and is hungry for more. “I’m in good shape, and I felt even better today than in the first week,” he said. “We will try again”. The Groupama-FDJ now tallies eight top 10 finishes since the start of the Vuelta. “In general, you always remember your first Grand Tour, but a Grand Tour like this one will leave its mark on the youngsters”, said Rudy. “They can build on this to improve and gain even more confidence. I’m really happy to be with them on this Vuelta.”

On Wednesday, Lenny Martinez finished in the GC group, after the final was controlled by Remco Evenepoel’s team. The French climber therefore remains in fifth place overall but will have to remain careful on Thursday towards Zaragoza, where the sprinters hope to fight again. “If the wind blows in a certain direction, it can be a very tricky stage because it’s exposed all day,” concluded Benoît.

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