Despite two abandons at the start of the day, for very different reasons, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team kept its momentum going on Saturday, in stage 7 of Paris-Nice. Towards the Col de Turini, three of its riders indeed slipped into the day’s breakaway: Olivier Le Gac, David Gaudu and Quentin Pacher. Unfortunately, the peloton never gave them a big enough gap. Quentin Pacher was among the last fugitives to stay away but was caught in the final climb before joining the summit in 21st position.
The mountain-top finish of the 80th “Race to the Sun” was looming this Saturday, between Nice and the Col du Turini, over just 155 kilometres. Once again, the deal was clear for the Groupama-FDJ’s riders, although the day did not start the best way with Michael Storer’s withdrawal due to illness, but also the unbelievable accident Kevin Geniets suffered from as he was joining the signature podium. Knocked down by a moving panel, the Luxembourg champion did try to take the start, but he almost immediately had to pull the plug because of an ankle injury. Eventually, Philippe Mauduit only had five men getting underway, but the instructions were crystal clear. “The goal was to take the breakaway and go for the stage”, said Philippe. “We knew it would be hard coming into this last climb with the best GC contenders. It was absolutely necessary to get into the breakaway, and from this point of view, starting with five riders did not change much in our plan. We had work to do.” David Gaudu, Olivier Le Gac, and Quentin Pacher executed the plan perfectly as they joined an 18-man group right from the start. “We wanted to have the numbers up front, especially to support David”, added Quentin. “We were told to attack, and it went away very early, from the first kilometres. There were the three of us in there, but we quickly understood that they would not give us a big advantage”.
“Very satisfied with the guys’ commitment”, Philippe Mauduit
The breakaway was barely established and already the Arkéa-Samsic and Ineos Grenadiers teams decided to control it. Besides, the pressure never let up. “It was an intense stage because the gap always fluctuated between forty seconds and two minutes”, added Quentin. “In the front, we didn’t really have time to relax, we were always pulling quite hard. And then, we obviously knew that it was going to be too difficult to play for victory with only a one-minute gap starting the Turini, as we also left a lot of energy in the wind throughout the day”. Not in a great day, David Gaudu sat up before the bottom of the final climb while Olivier Le Gac gave a last push for his other teammate. “Once you’re out with a strategy, you have to try until the end,” added Quentin. “David was not yet at his best, so Olivier pulled in the last valley and then I did the best possible climb”. The 30-year-old man was among the last three men standing from the break, but he was caught by the bunch with nine kilometres to go. “I wanted to climb as fast as possible at the bottom to go with the best climbers of the breakaway and give myself a chance to be caught as late as possible”, he added. “Then I got caught, and with the wind blowing, it was a little easier riding in the wheels than riding alone. Anyway, there are no regrets today”.
Quentin Pacher held on to the favourites’ group for a few moments and later reached the summit in twenty-first position, four minutes behind winner and race leader Primoz Roglic. “I am very satisfied with the guys’ commitment, attitude and state of mind”, underlined Philippe Mauduit. “They are really combative; we have to point that out. Unfortunately, we know why we can’t fight with the best at the moment. Therefore, we must try to use other strategies. The guys bought into it and entered the fight body and soul.” After two consecutive breakaways, Valentin Madouas spent the day in the peloton and kept his polka dot jersey on the eve of the final day of racing around Nice. “I have a nice margin and I will try to do my own race”, said the man from Brittany. “Apart from that, we will try to be offensive as we have been lately, and we will give everything to do the best possible stage”. “It will be an extremely difficult stage even if it is very short”, warned Philippe. “We will try to keep Valentin’s jersey, and as for the stage victory, it will again depend on the break’s composition and the gap it will be allowed to take. For us anyway, it is very likely that our best shot will come from the breakaway”.