The big party expected on the roads of Brittany this Saturday, for the start of the 108th edition of the Tour de France, was kind of ruined by a series of heavy crashes. As usual, the opening stage proved stressful and countless riders went on the ground. After a lot of work for his leaders, Lithuanian champion Ignatas Konovalovas suffered a huge crash and was unable to continue, being forced to leave the race on day 1. David Gaudu got through the crashes and did not fail in the last climb, claiming seventh place on the line alongside the main favourites.
“It’s sad for Kono, for the team and for Arnaud’s lead-out train”, David Gaudu
It was around eleven o’clock this Saturday when the biggest cycling event on earth started from the port of Brest. A bunch made of 184 riders got underway in this opening stage of 200 kilometers, and the first minutes obviously were very special for ‘’local boy’’ Valentin Madouas. After a long parade in front of a large crowd, the race really began as the Tour’s first breakaway logically proved highly contested. After twenty minutes or so, six riders managed to create a gap but the teams aiming for the stage win never really let it grow. The peloton therefore did not play in this first stage and the gap never passed the four-minute mark. Shortly after halfway, the difference was already reduced to two minutes on a single survivor, Ide Schelling, as Arnaud Démare took sixth place in the intermediate sprint. “It was planned he’d contest it,” said Yvon Madiot. “The goal was to score some points and stay in contact in the standings. It was also a way for him to properly enter the Tour. When you aim to perform, you can’t just hang around in the back. All the sprinters actually took part in this sprint. It was important for him to get into the action”. Like the former French champion, the entire team proved active by consistently staying in the first half of the peloton.
“We knew the obstacles and the traps,” said Yvon. “David and Valentin had warned us about them and we had also done a recon on Friday. The roads weren’t very wide and we knew there would be crowds, which would reduce the road’s width even more. We also knew that the last downhill would be a sensitive part. As always on the Tour, the start is very stressful and there were two really important massive crashes, which affected fifty guys each time”. The first one, caused by a spectator with 45 kilometres to go, did not affect the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. The second one, however, caught Ignatas Konovalovas and Valentin Madouas approaching the final climb. The young Frenchman was able to get back on his bike but the Lithuanian champion, who suffered a very heavy crash, was unfortunately unable to continue the stage. “Kono had done a great job before that, he seemed very really strong,” said David Gaudu. “It’s sad for him, for the team and for Arnaud’s lead-out train. More than anything, we hope he’ll escape any big injury”.
“I will remember this day for the rest of my life”, Valentin Madouas
Thanks to the work of his teammates including Ignatas Konovalovas, David Gaudu was able to tackle the final climb of the Fosse-aux-Loups in a good position. Although he did not follow Julian Alaphilippe when the world champion launched his attack more than two kilometres from the finish, the Groupama-FDJ’ climber still managed to stay in the small group of favourites until the line. He even started the sprint for second place, eventually taking 7th. “David finishes with the favourites, but above all he was very well supported, especially by the unfortunate Kono”, commented Yvon. “All the team helped him a lot”. “Stefan did a great job, Jacopo also worked well”, added the young man from Brittany. “The legs were ok for a start. From a personal point of view, I went through the two big crashes, which is already a good thing. From a team point of view it was perfect until the finish. The only downside today is to see Kono crashing out of the Tour”. With David Gaudu taking 7th on the day, the team also started its Tour de France with a top-10, which had not happened since 2010. David is also second in the best young rider classification, behind the reigning champion Tadej Pogacar.
Valentin Madouas crossed the line a few minutes later due to his crash. He obviously had more ambitions on home soil but was still trying to be positive. “The main goal was that David and Arnaud didn’t crash,” he said. “David was in front and finished in the top 10, which is very, very good. Personally, I’m a little disappointed because I felt really good, but that’s how it is. Despite the crash, it was a great day for me. I will remember it for the rest of my life. There was a lot of crowd and people cheered for us all day. It was really crazy!” “It is heart-warming to hear all these people shouting your name,” confirmed the other Brittany-native David Gaudu. “It feels good to see your supporters and your family by the side of the road, it gives motivation for the rest of the race. Despite all that, I managed to focus on the race and that’s the big positive thing. I’m already focused on tomorrow with the Mûr-de-Bretagne stage, which can be tricky even if the final is a little less technical than today”. Yvon Madiot concluded: “It will be the same pattern tomorrow: tension and everything down to one climb”.