Four years and a few setbacks later, Rudy Molard is back in red! After having worn it for four days in 2018, the Groupama-FDJ rider took the leader’s jersey again in the Vuelta a Espana on Wednesday. After entering the rightbreakaway with his teammate Jake Stewart, the 32-year-old puncher perfectly managed the final towards Bilbao to take the lead in the general classification. Fourth in this fifth stage, Rudy Molard has a two-second gap on his first contender, while the main favorites are four minutes behind prior to the first summit finish on Thursday. The very satisfying start to the Vuelta continues.

“Rudy was really motivated”, Philippe Mauduit

have been thinking about it since yesterday. I was not far in the general classification. I told my teammates that it was possible to take the red jersey today”. When he showed up inIrún on Wednesday morning, for the start of the Vuelta’s fifth stage, Rudy Molard had an idea in mind. An idea that was shared by the whole team. “We weren’t sure of anything, but we knew that it was one of the possible scenarios, saidPhilippe Mauduit. “We were mainly looking to put Rudy or Seb up front, with a rider who could help them throughout the day. Jake was among the riders who could achieve this mission. He also had this nice sprint which, depending on the race’s scenario, could allow him to play something in the final”. That was the theoretical plan. On the field, it proved way much harder since the fight for the breakaway lasted almost two hours. “At some point, I stopped looking at how many kilometres we had done”, even said Philippe. Last time I checked, we had done seventy kilometres and the break was not made yetTo be in the front, you really had to want it, and Rudy was really motivated because he knew that if the break was gone and Jumbo gave them space, he had a good shot at getting that jersey. The good move eventually formed just before the first climb of the day, approaching the halfway point. Up front, Rudy Molard then found himself with sixteen men, including his teammate Jake Stewart. “I was really motivated to take the break with Rudy or Seb because we knew we had a good opportunity to take the red jersey, saidthe Briton. Once we were in front, the plan was to commit100% for Rudy”.

Although the gap initially stabilized around three minutes, it eventually went over the five-minute mark with sixty kilometres to go, as the breakaway headed towards the first ascent of the decisive Alto del Vivero (4.6km at 7.9%). Wehad to race to try to winand not forget that there was also the possibility of getting the jersey, Philippe said about his riders’ approach. After checking who was in the break, we knew that 3-4 riders could go for the red jersey, and Rudy was in the best position of them all. We also knew that the closer we got to the final, the more we had to control Fred Wright, who also really wanted to wear this jersey. In the penultimate climb, the first attacks occured in the front, butthe breakaway got back together before crossing the finish line for the first time in Bilbao. Still up there, Jake Stewartfirst tried to bring some calm in the front group, before attacking himself a few moments later to help his teammate. “About twenty kilometres from the finish, before the last climb, I went solo so Rudy could just have a free ride behind”,explained the Briton. also wanted to take a step ahead to try to get over the climb in the first group. “Jake was sostrong today, added Rudy. “He pulled for me, and when it got messy at the end with those many attacks, he took hischance. He was really strong.” The English puncher-sprinter took a forty-second lead at the bottom of the last climb and held off his chasers for a long time. However, Marc Soler produced a sharp acceleration two kilometres from the summitand caught him a kilometre further.

“It’s a big day for me”, Rudy Molard

Rudy Molard did not follow this attack, as he was entirely focused on his opponent for the red jersey. “From the bottomof the final climb to the finish, Rudy did not leave Wrightalone, but it was the only way for him to be sure to wear the jersey tonight, explained Philippe. We knew that Wright was faster than Rudy in the sprint, but Rudy is a better climber, so he absolutely had to get the bonus seconds at the top of the climb. We had to take everything we could.” On the bonus sprint located just before the downhill, the rider from Groupama-FDJ took second place, and therefore gained two seconds, bringing his lead over the man from Bahrain-Victorious to six seconds. There was then a last descent to handle before two flat kilometres. After fighting hard at the top of the climb, Jake Stewart managed to get back to the Molard group. “I came back in the descent, but then I cramped from both legs in the small kick six kilometres from the finish, added Jake. “From there, it was finished for me.”For his teammate, however, nothing was done yet. “I had to follow Wright, but I knew he was also fast in the sprint, so I had some doubt in the final, continued Rudy. “When Arndt and Impey came from the back it was better for me, but I was under stress until the end. Having Soler in front was also a good thing for me, and I was also hoping that Jake would come back for the sprint because he is going very fast. He could even have won”.

Eventually, Soler kept a few seconds entering the lastkilometres, and Rudy Molard perfectly kept Fred Wrightunder control, which slowed down the chasing group. In the sprint, the British rider was beaten by Daryl Impey for second place, and only took four bonus seconds. That was enough for Rudy Molard to get back in red, four years later! “I did it again, it’s a big day for me, he said with enthusiasm. It’s amazing, it means a lot.” This joy also had some background. “It was very hard to leave the race last year, recalled Rudy. I suffered from a pneumothorax; it was quite serious. I spent almost a week in the hospital, I had to do nine weeks without sport. It was really long. I had real doubts about coming backto the best level, I really struggled over the winter, but I committed and always believed I could make it. I unfortunately got a severe Covid at the end of January and it was hard to recover. I only resumed racing at the end of March, and now, I am the leader of a Grand Tour… You always need to believe!” “For Rudy, it’s really the exit of the tunnel, confirmed Philippe. “It is just a fair reward for everything he’s done to prepare for this Vuelta”. Twelfth in the Clasica San Sebastian and third in the Tour de l’Ainrecently, the Frenchman had already given positive signs. “I knew I was in good shape, and I prepared well for this Vuelta, but I hadn’t thought of taking the leader’s jersey,” added RudyIt’s a nice surprise. I really came to go for the stagewins, but the opportunity arose, we took it and it’s great for the team.

“We are going to enjoy this day together”, Philippe Mauduit

Thanks to the fourth place of the day, the Groupama-FDJ also makes it five top-10 in five stages on this Vuelta 2022. “We have the red jersey, we’re first in the team ranking, we could not have started better“, added the new leader. “It’s important to keep this momentum, but we’ll need to get that win,” saidPhilippe with a smile. That is still the goal. That being said, taking the leader’s jersey on a Grand Tour is no small achievement. Few riders can experience that, so if you have the opportunity to wear it for a day or more, it’s something that leaves a mark on your career as a rider, especially if you’re a domestique for most of the season. Jake also put on a great performance. He did not miss much to be able to go for the stage win. For a rookie, this is not nothing. Before that, he also did his part in the breakaway supporting Rudy“We had a plan and we executed it well,” said the British rider. I’m super happy for Rudy. It was a very nice day up front and I’m very happy to have been able to do this in my first Grand Tour. It’s a good experience and I’ll take a lot of lessons from today.” He will also, from Thursday, defend a leader’s jersey on a Grand Tour. Rudy Molard will approach the first mountain stage with a lead of two seconds over Wright and about four minutes over Primoz Roglic, the first GC contender. “We will try to keep it as much as possible, he promised. Against the pure climbers, I have no illusions, but we will fight”. “Tomorrow, there will be a fight for the stage and another fight for the red jersey, concluded Philippe. If the leaders really battle, everything can be turned upside down. Anyway, we’ll enjoy this beautiful day together and the goal will be to have the best possible day for the team. We also came there to win stages. There is an opportunity tomorrow, and if we can seize it, we will try to do it”.