Twenty-one seconds. Rudy Molard just missed twenty-six seconds to keep his red jersey this Thursday on the Vuelta a Espana. Twenty-four hours after taking the lead of the general classification, the Frenchman fought hard to the summit of Pico Jano, where the race’s big favorites started to attack each other. Well protected throughout the day, and even brought back into the bunch by his teammates before the final climb, the Groupama-FDJ puncher then gave everything but was unable to reach the line in time. On Thursday evening, he therefore sits second overall behind Remco Evenepoel. A great chapter came to an end, but many others are yet to come.
For the fifth time in his career, Rudy Molard woke up as the leader of the Vuelta a Espana this Thursday morning. Four years after last experiencing the red jersey, the Frenchman was therefore the centre of attention in Bilbao at the start of stage 6, the first proper mountains day. “It was awesome,” he said. “As I experienced this before, I knew I had to enjoy it. I really wanted to make the most of this day because I know that these kinds of moments are brief. Moreover, given today’s stage, the elevation gain, and the weather conditions, I was not sure to keep it“. More than 4,000 meters of climbing were indeed on the menu towards Pico Jano (12.5 km at 6.6%), and the Groupama-FDJ cycling team still approached the day with different options. “We had decided to adapt to the race situation, but unlike the other days, the breakaway went very quickly, after about fifteen kilometres”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “We could have gone for the stage if the fight had been longer and the breakaway had formed in a climb, in which case we could have put Thibaut, Quentin or Seb up front. It didn’t happen that way. We then focused entirely on defending the jersey, and the guys did that very well”. In the lead, ten men were able to make a gap, and the best of themoverall was Jan Bakelants, about five minutes away from the red jersey.
“We couldn’t do much better”, Philippe Mauduit
The team then took their responsibilities. “Miles and Fabian pulled for the whole first part of the stage,” said Rudy. “They did a great job. Bruno also pulled, then we got the help of Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl”. “After his big day yesterday, Jakehad to stay slightly behind and keep Rudy safe today”, added Philippe. “Fortunately so, because after the halfway point, he had to give his bike to Rudy. There was a split in the peloton,and we couldn’t help”. In the last hour, the bunch accelerated again and came back just two minutes behind the breakaway approaching the Collada de Brenes (6.3 km at 8.6%), the penultimate climb. Following crashes and splits, the team had to make an extra effort to bridge across to the first part of the peloton. The selection started right after. “Rudy did not have the best legs after his day up front yesterday”, confided Philippe. “He didn’t feel great in the climbs. He warned us in the penultimate climb, telling us that he was at the limit”. The red jersey still held its place up until one kilometre to the top, when he was eventually distanced. He then benefited from the support of Quentin Pacher as the rain became stronger before the end of the stage. “We kept Seb and Thibaut in front, because with the weather conditions and the downhill, we knew it would be difficult for them to stay with Rudy”, addedPhilippe. “When we got to the bottom of the descent, they waited for Rudy and Quentin”.
A real chase then took place over ten kilometres to close a half-minute gap on the bunch, which was still going strong. Sébastien Reichenbach and Quentin Pacher made big pulls on the flat sections, then Thibaut Pinot made the last effort in the foothills of the final climb to allow Rudy Molard to return his place in the pack. This was done with 14 kilometres to go,meaning 1500 meters from Pico Jano’s bottom. The red jersey immediately tried to reposition, and he benefited from a slight moment of peace on the first slopes. However, the big fight still initiated quite early, almost ten kilometres from the top. Remco Evenepoel especially crushed his opponents one by one while Jay Vine flew to a superb stage victory. Rudy Molard eventually reached the summit 4 minutes and 51 seconds after the Belgian rider. That was twenty-one seconds too late to keep his red jersey. “Even when Rudy was in trouble, the team continued to work well, as we thought we could still do it”, said Philippe. “It could have worked out if we had not come across a super Evenepoel. We couldn’t do much better. Rudy would have kept his jersey against all the other favourites, but there was Evenepoel…”
“We still had a great day”, Rudy Molard
“Without my teammates, I think I wouldn’t have lost the jersey for just twenty-one seconds,” Rudy said. “After all the work the team did, I couldn’t give up and I really gave it my all until the end. I had to make two efforts earlier in the race which cost me energy. The rain also made the race harder. These are not conditions that I love. I prefer when it’s 40°C. I also had yesterday’s stage in the legs, but I gave my best. In the end, I don’t miss much… If Remco hadn’t been that strong compared to the rest, it would have been possible to keep the jersey. I was given some gaps in the climb, and I knew it was going to be close. Twenty-one seconds… It’s a shame. I really would have liked to keep the jersey for one more day to thank the team”. On Thursday evening, Rudy Molard is therefore in second place in the general classification, only preceded by Remco Evenepoel. “We still had a great day”, he said. “I would have preferred a nice sunny day, but I still enjoyed the jersey.” “We are surely disappointed to let the jersey go so quickly, but on the other hand, I am proud of the work that has been done by the riders and the whole team today”,concluded Philippe. “And the Vuelta continues!”