They did it again, and they did it better. David Gaudu and Bruno Armitail teamed up last week to get the first Groupama-FDJ’s stage win on the Vuelta in La Farrapona. They did the same thing on Saturday in the final mountain stage of the 2020 Tour of Spain. The young French climber soloed to a second stage victory in the Alto de la Covatilla, but before his rise to the summit, he benefited from the huge and decisive work of Bruno Armirail in the breakaway, for nearly 150 kilometers. This magical duo struck once again in Spanish lands. As for the icing on the cake, David Gaudu climbed to eighth overall before the last stage in Madrid.

In a way, it was the day of the “last ones”: last mountain stage of the Vuelta, last mountain top finish of the 2020 cycling season, but also the last opportunity for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team to bring back an additional win. To get it at the top of the Alto de la Covatilla, which was supposed to make the final decision for the general classification, David Gaudu was obviously the best option for the French squad but he probably needed to be in the day’s break. “To be frank, we thought it was going to be complicated for me to go up front since everyone defends his place in the third week,” explained the young Frenchman, eleventh overall in the morning. “We knew there was going to be some action quite quickly and that some big moves could form,” said Thierry Bricaud. “If David succeeded in being there, we had to have Bruno there too. We know that David is a real threat in a breakaway, and Bruno was our best weapon to control that break.” It was actually the French time trial specialist who took the lead in the first place.

“We knew what Bruno was capable of doing”, Thierry Bricaud

“We thought the breakaway would go in the first big climb”, said Armirail, “but we followed the moves and we went away on a small hill. I turned around and saw that David was there. It was even better!”. Although the peloton did not immediately ease off, it still lost its first fight to a breakaway of around 30 riders. “We had only one thing in mind, the stage win,” said Thierry. “We also knew that if we would win the stage, we would almost certainly enter the top 10 overall, but UAE had numbers in front and we let them do the work a bit at the start. We then quickly realized that it was going to be a mess because the breakaway was too big, so Bruno went to pull as well“. Fifth in the time trial earlier this week, the Frenchman started to pull after 50 kilometres. He didn’t stop until six kilometres from the finish, not only reducing the breakaway but also enabling his leader to keep a three-minute margin over the bunch. “We spent the whole day pulling, UAE and I,” Bruno explained. “We managed it well, it went well and I felt really good. I said yesterday that my performance boded well for today. I think I confirmed it. It was exactly the same as a week ago, and it was great to be in front with David. I rode as much as possible, for as long as possible. I did my best for him and the work has paid off, it’s great.”

Not only did this enormous work get clearly noticed by the observers, it also led to nice praises from his sports director Thierry Bricaud: “What he did today is a step higher than what he usually did, but we knew what he was capable of doing. He’s at his best in this type of effort, in difficult and tiring stages, in medium or high mountains, helping out a leader. Even more when it is someone he gets along well with, like David. For the record, we briefed Bruno at the start of Vuelta. We wanted to avoid him making unnecessary effort, because we knew he could be very strong in some stages. He gives so much that he sometimes wastes his energy unnecessarily. We tried to handle these stages with him and I think we did well doing so, because when he eventually got carte blanche, he was always there and very strong. It especially enabled him to set a very good time trial but also to bring David to victory twice. Today, the UAE riders did their job, but Bruno crushed them one by one, and David would not have won that stage if it weren’t for Bruno. David is very strong but he owes much of his victory to him”. Just like a week before, the young Frenchman indeed succeeded in finishing off his teammate’s work, winning at the top of the Covatilla. And at the finish, his first words were also dedicated to the man of the day.

“It’s the icing on the cake”, David Gaudu

“Bruno was huge once again”, he confided. “There are no words for the work he did today. Right now, I think he’s one of the best teammates in the world in that role. Riding like he does, giving so much until he’s completely exhausted, that’s amazing. Today, it is also his victory, and that of a whole team”. However, as Bruno said when he arrived at the top, “the win was still to get” when he completed his part. Facing a brave competition, Gaudu didn’t tremble. The Frenchman started the most difficult part of the climb 40 seconds behind the leading trio, but he was able to bridge across quite quickly and then dropped everyone from his wheel, including Ion Izagirre four kilometers from the summit. “In the end, I had to go all in,” said David. “I decided to attack and gave it my all. I tried to get past the leaders as fast as possible, to put them into the headwind, so that we would be on an equal footing and they could not recover in my wheel. I gave it my all, and I was afraid someone would come back in the last three kilometers, but I was able to give another kick at the flamme rouge and I knew it was done. I really am very, very happy”. Unlike last week, the 24-year-old climber was able to celebrate a solo victory, therefore adding a second stage to his bag. This could recall Thibaut Pinot’s 2018 Vuelta.

“I thought about it this morning,” David confessed. “I thought: why not today, why not me? Also, I liked the weather conditions. The day unfolded by instinct, and it worked out. This kind of day is exceptional”. Finally, thanks to his performance today, the rider from Brittany gained three places in the general rankings, climbing up to 8th on the eve of the final stage. “I was already very happy, over the moon actually, after my first stage win”, he said. “So winning a second one is the icing on the cake, and entering the top 10 is also achieving a goal we set to ourselves. The Vuelta was already successful, but with two stage wins and a final top 10, it is even more so. We would have signed up for that from the start”. Thierry Bricaud got the final word: “David is back to the logical thread of his career. He is improving every year. This year was special, but finishing the season like he does confirms his constant progression. The first week was a bit difficult but he managed to improve day by day. It will give him certainty for his future in the Grand Tours and that’s a very good thing. More generally, the Vuelta is a complete success for us, not only because of the results, but also in the way the whole team committed. Let’s remember that we did not start the best way”. Despite the Thibaut Pinot, Romain Seigle and Matthieu Ladagnous’ abandons, the group remained very united and strong. And although being last in the general classification, Mickaël Delage is a great example of that point. “He had just come back from a long recovery, he had hardly raced, so his Vuelta is also remarkable,” concluded Thierry. “We thought he would struggle to complete a week, and he’s here about to finish the Vuelta. We can also take our hat off to him”.

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