The Tour de France entered the Pyrenees on Tuesday, and the Groupama-FDJ cycling team was active at all levels in this stage 16. Within the day’s breakaway, Olivier Le Gac, Valentin Madouas and Michael Storer played their cards in the fight for the stage win. In the final, the French puncher and the Australian climber put on a nice fight but could not catch the leading man, Hugo Houle. Valentin Madouas then settled for second place and Michael Storer for fifth. As for the GC battle, David Gaudu held on tight despite a few seconds lost in the Mur de Péguère. The young climber could finish with the yellow jersey and therefore climbed three spots overall! He now sits in fifth place as two big mountainous stages loom.

As an appetizer, in the aftermath of the last rest day, the Tour de France was tackling the first climbs of the Pyrenees. On Tuesday, it included the Port de Lers (12 km at 7%) and the Mur de Péguère (9.4 km at 7.5% including 3km at 11%). The finish was located in Foix after a long downhill. 178 kilometres before, the battle for the breakaway proved less tough than the last days, and a group of nearly 30 riders managed to go after only a few minutes. Attentive and in good position from kilometre 0, Olivier Le Gac, Valentin Madouas and Michael Storer all entered the right move. “It was planned to be in the front, but not necessarily to have three guys”, said Valentin. “We followed the moves, we were aggressive, and that’s the state of mind we need to show for the end of the Tour”. “It was not necessarily planned to have Michael in front, but once the break was gone, we thought it could be useful to have more cards to go for the stage win”, added Philippe Mauduit. At the head of the race, the Groupama-FDJ riders however found themselves with serious rivals, like Aleksandr Vlasov, Michael Woods, Damiano Caruso, Brandon McNulty, Neilson Powless or even… Wout Van Aert. Despite the threat of the Russian rider, the peloton let this large group take a big lead of about eight minutes. This was still more or less the gap after 115 kilometres, when tackling the Port of Lers.

“We did a great race”, Valentin Madouas

Olivier Le Gac first took a step ahead with Damiano Caruso, before Michael Storer jumped across to take the place of his Breton teammate at the head of the race. At the top, the Australian climber was with six other riders while Valentin Madouas managed to come back in the descent leading to the Mur de Péguère. “The days after a rest day are never easy to handle, and with the heat, I completely exploded on the first climb”, explained Valentin. “I needed to cool off and catch my breath.” Just after coming across the front group, which was made up of around ten men, Valentin Madouas also took a step ahead in the foothills of the last climb. However, Hugo Houle had already attacked a few moments before. On the first slopes, Valentin Madouas was joined by Michael Storer, Michael Woods and Matteo Jorgenson and therefore did most of the work for his colleague. “In the final, the legs kind of came back and we tried to anticipate to go for victory with Michael”, said Valentin. “I kept my own pace, trying to get back to Hugo Houle”. In the hardest slopes, the man from Brittany however lost contact, so did Michael Storer one kilometre from the top, while the leading man managed to keep his lead.

Shortly after the top, seventeen kilometres from the finish, the two men from Groupama-FDJ then found themselves in a third echelon. “I didn’t blow on the climb, I was able to give another push towards the top,” said Valentin. “I was hoping we would come back in the downhill. We didn’t take any risks with Michael, but we rode very fast together. We both did a great race, but a little something was missing”. Although Valentin Madouas was able to come back to the first chasers in the very last kilometre, Hugo Houle was never seen again and took the win. After a last sprint to the line, the Frenchman therefore had to settle for second place on the day, while Michael Storer took fifth following a great work in the chase. “It’s obviously a decent performance but being second in the Tour de France is never a satisfaction”, said Valentin. “We definitely want the win. I am disappointed for sure because I think it was possible to get the win, but we came against a stronger man on this climb. He anticipated at the right time, and we did not have the legs to get across”. “You have to be bold to win on the Tour, and that’s perhaps also what we lacked today”, added Philippe Mauduit. “But we still have a few opportunities left”.

“I hope the best is coming”, David Gaudu

About five minutes after his long-time friend from Brittany, David Gaudu crossed the line alongside the yellow jersey. In the right move when Tadej Pogacar opened up the race in Port de Lers, the Groupama-FDJ leader struggled a bit more in the Mur de Péguère, but he never cracked. “He was never really in trouble, and when he was a bit distanced, he was always with top guys”, recalled Philippe Mauduit. “He was first with Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas, then with Geraint Thomas only, and he crossed the top of Péguère only ten seconds behind. He knew the descent well and knew that he had to bridge across in the most technical part. This is what he managed to do, as he already did in this same stage a few years ago. He didn’t lose his nerves.”I was at my limits in Péguère”, added David. “I was worried when I saw that the green jersey was leading the group when I started to come back in the downhill, but I managed to join them. I didn’t have great legs today, but I went through it ok, so hopefully that was a good restart for the next two days. I hope the best is coming.” At the end, David Gaudu could be very satisfied with the day’s outcome as he personally moved up to fifth place overall. “It’s obviously a pity to come so close to victory, but we still have some great days ahead of us,” said David. “But today, I gained places overall, we again fought for the win, and the whole team is going well. It’s a pleasure to be on this Tour de France”. On Tuesday, the collective strength of Groupama-FDJ was also verified since they moved up to second place in the team classification.

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