The 2023 Tour Down Under ended on Sunday at the top of Mount Lofty, on the heights of Adelaide. In this fifth stage, considered to be the most difficult of the week, Michael Storer and Rudy Molard were able to follow the main favorites in the final. Although the day did not cause too much damage, the French puncher still gained four places overall, thus concluding the race in 12th and launching his season in a good way. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team completes the week with three top-10s and third place in the team classification.
Barely 112 kilometres made up the last stage of the Tour Down Under this Sunday, which was supposed to decide the final hierarchy of the race. A little over 2000 meters of elevation were also listed, on the twisting and tiring circuit around Mount Lofty (1.5 km at 6.5%) that the riders had to cover five times. From kilometre 0, located at the bottom of a long ascending section towards the day’s climb, the Groupama-FDJ riders showed themselves. In particular, Michael Storer and Reuben Thompson. “We mostly wanted to follow the big moves so as not to find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation”, explained Jussi Veikkanen. “Despite our attempts, a group of thirteen left without us at the end of the first lap. No one was dangerous for the GC in the front, but it was known anyway that there would be a fight between the big guys at the finish. The breakaway therefore never really went away, because there always was a steady, high pace behind”. The gap never even reached one minute, and the duel was almost won by the peloton when approaching the penultimate lap of the circuit. “The guys were pretty careful. The only problem is that Rudy punctured at the bottom of the penultimate climb of Mount Lofty”, said Jussi. “It was the same moment that when the peloton really got going and exploded into many pieces”.
“It’s frustrating to be so close to the top-10”, Jussi Veikkanen
Thirty kilometres from the finish, the tension therefore rose quite a bit within Groupama-FDJ. “We weren’t immediately there to help him out, so he first took Lorenzo’s bike,” continued Jussi. “Then, we caught him a few hundred meters further to give him his spare bike. He went for it again, but the peloton was in pieces. Miles saw him, waited for him, and pulled with him to come back. However, the others did not notice it. Miles made a very big effort, but Rudy still left some energy on the road. They managed to come back about ten kilometres further, but it cost us a lot of energy.” The team’s leader for the general classification resumed his place a handful of kilometres from the final ascending section and the final on Mount Lofty. He then positioned together with Michael Storer for the final battle but could not follow the Yates-Vine-O’Connor trio that broke away a few hundred meters from the summit. “It is difficult to say how much energy he left in his pursuit, and if he could have done better without this issue”, added Jussi. “He still managed to refocus to finish in the second group. I think an extra lap could have been more to our advantage. The stage was very short, it went very fast. Was it tiring enough to really make a difference? Maybe not, but it was anyway a nice circuit and the strong guys were still in front”.
Six seconds behind stage winner Simon Yates and final winner Jay Vine, Rudy Molard took fourteenth place on the day, three ranks behind his teammate Michael Storer. This also allowed him to move up four places in the general classification, which he finished in twelfth position, three seconds from ninth place “We knew from the start that it was going to be a close call at the end”, concluded Jussi. “It’s frustrating to be so close to the top-10. It was our goal, so we can’t say we’re completely satisfied, but I think we gave our best. We witnessed some nice things this week, and overall, everyone is ready for what’s next. It is also the first race of the year, and we have to find our bearings. The work for Paul was great, and our climbers are in pretty good shape. It’s rather reassuring and motivating for the future”. The next race for the team will be next Sunday, in the usual opener of the French calendar: the Grand Prix La Marseillaise.