Barely returning from the Alps, David Gaudu is about to resume racing next Tuesday on the Tour de Burgos. The Spanish event will be the first step in his rise of power towards the Tour de France, where he is expected to support Thibaut Pinot in the mountains just like last year. Before this intense season gets underway, and that he gets to discover new things, the 23-year-old man from Brittany took a few moments to discuss in depth the recent training camp, his upcoming program, his position in the team as well as his development since he turned pro.
David, how was this last gathering before the season restart?
First of all, after long weeks of training alone, it felt great to be back with the group, to ride together and to reconnect with that team atmosphere. It also enabled me to go back to mountains that I cherish to train. I was already in Tignes a few days before the training camp and met with few riders from the team. I could get back on track to follow on well with the collective camp. Firstly, we could recon a few stage finishes from the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour, including the Col de la Loze. That’s a good thing as it will be one of the toughest finishes on the Tour this year. It’s not an easy climb to manage. There are different portions, with the road getting flat at certain points but with some tough parts as well. It will be a pretty weird climb. We don’t know how it will turn out, moreover in the third week of the Tour. I personally like this climb. It suits to my qualities as a climber and as a puncher. It looks like Thibaut liked it too. We’ll try to make it go well on D-Day … We were also able to work on endurance with a big ride and do some intensity in the mountains, which always feels good! We managed to build up over the training camp, which is not always an easy thing to do when you’re in the pre-season. The body got unblocked.
“We are not robots”
Have you also been able to enjoy good time together?
Being in a chalet brings a particular dynamic to the group. We don’t necessarily stay in our rooms like we could in a hotel. We were all together, we got to do something else than cycling together, and we had a lot of fun. Once we put the bike away, we tried to talk about something else. It also feels good to disconnect. We are not robots. We will have enough to talk about, in terms of cycling, over the last three months of the season or during the three weeks of the Tour. We all got back together as if nothing had changed, but with a real motivation. I think everyone was eager to have this training camp, the team and this cohesion back again.
How do you approach your return in Burgos, next Tuesday?
I’m having a rest block before leaving. I really hope I can perform there. We don’t do training camps for nothing! However, I don’t know how the legs will be. I don’t think anyone can say today: “I have the legs to win this or that race”. So we’ll take it day by day. There are two nice summit finishes that suit me and I want to be there. If we can get a good result, why go without? There are no specific goals but to give the best. We hope it goes well but I’m not going there saying that I want to win the overall. We’re cautious about this. We will see after the first summit finish. The goal is also to keep building up in the Tour perspective. Anyway, I think it will be quite special to be back in the peloton. The atmosphere will be different from the one there was when we left it.
This time, you will be alongside Arnaud and not Thibaut.
On short races like this, the cohabitation is different. On the UAE Tour, I did a good job of finishing fourth overall with this team by my side. Over a week, it is not that decisive. However, it can get more complicated over three weeks. Regarding Thibaut, he is obviously not there, but the goal remains to look for a result. It’s also something the team expects from me when I’m leader in certain races, and I fully intend to grab this opportunity.
“To add a small stone to the construction”
You will meet again with Thibaut on the Critérium du Dauphiné. What will be the goal?
The Critérium du Dauphiné will mainly enable the group to get used to ride and live together again. We’ll be able to work on our habits with Thibaut, but it’s pretty smooth as far as I’m concerned. We understand each other and talk a lot. Then, unlike a rider who is supposed to help him in the echelons, for example, my role is “simpler” as things unfold naturally in the mountains. For him, I am perhaps the most manageable teammate. As for the sports side, the Dauphiné’s course will be very tough and the goal will obviously be to get a good overall result with Thibaut.
Is the Tour, which will follow shortly after, already in everyone’s mind?
So far, I haven’t felt it that much. The tension and pressure will rise as we will get closer. First of all, we already have to get back to the races. Above all, we want to get a bib back on pretty quickly, and it is about to happen. The Tour’s pressure will quietly come afterwards, especially during the Dauphiné. That being said, we obviously all know what lies ahead and what we need to do for the Tour. We all have last year’s images in mind. We want to repeat the same thing, or almost, just with adding a little stone to the construction.
You should get back to your mountain lieutenant position. In that regard, what did the 2019 edition of the Tour bring you?
I understood some things about my abilities, which naturally help me in approaching this year’s Tour. I became more aware of my potential, that’s for sure. Then, this role brings a lot of adrenaline. With each meter passing, we tell ourselves that we must not fail, that we must be there with the leader. When we see that he’s doing well, in our wheel, while the others are cracking, the adrenaline continues to rise and we want to give a little more. We experienced such an emotional Tour de France that we only want to keep the best of it.
“The Vuelta will not be a catch-up session”
With this type of performance, are you impatient to know how far you can go on your own?
I can’t wait to find out how far I can go on my own, obviously. We hope that the opportunity will present itself as soon as possible … We will see with the team when I feel ready, personally, and when they are also ready to give me my chance on a Grand Tour. Right now, I also feel good in this role and I am lucky to have Thibaut next to me. I can learn from him and I also have the opportunity to be a leader in races like the UAE Tour or the Tour de Romandie. Then, in those moments, I take full advantage of what Thibaut brings me.
For the first time in your career, you will not race the Ardennes Classics. Is it a little disappointment?
No, because I mostly feel excited to be at the start of a second Grand Tour. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and how I can handle it. Doing two Grand Tours in the same season is not doable every year. This year was a great opportunity to do it, so we figured we shouldn’t get to wonder too much. That being said, the Vuelta is still a long way off. We haven’t even talked about it in depth yet. We just know that the program is like that. The main focus is the Tour de France. We can have the best possible season, if we miss the Tour, if we fail in the Tour, the season is more or less wasted. The Vuelta will not be a “catch-up session” of the Tour. Otherwise, we would have only announced the Tour to our program… For now, it is only a scheduled event. We know that we’ll be aiming for the Vuelta after the Tour, but we don’t know why we’ll be going there for, how we’ll get out of the Tour, or how the Tour will be. We will see that when the time comes.
Are you in the position you supposed you would be after three and a half years with the pros?
I never told myself I had to be in such a position or have such status after that many years. I’m a person who rather lives day to day, who takes the races one after the other and tries to do the best season after season. I didn’t necessarily say to myself: “in five years, I have to be a leader”. I don’t think in that way. I just think it’s running its course. The management knows where they’re taking me and I trust them 100%. There is obviously a career plan behind all this but I’m not the kind of person who set “timing” points. I just want to do the best I can, whenever I can, on races that I can. I think my level is where it should be. Every year, I manage to improve and learn new things. This year, despite the few races that took place, I have already managed to finish fourth in the UAE Tour, a WorldTour race with a very strong field. I am constantly improving and I manage to grow in maturity every year. That is the most important.
“I can’t wait to get a nice win in high mountains”
Did you even consider having three Tour de France under your belt at only 23?
Actually, I’ve never given it too much thought. Obviously, the Tour is the Tour, but it’s not the most insurmountable thing in the world either. There is certainly pressure, especially with the media, but I was also lucky enough to be left alone, more or less, during my first Tour. I didn’t necessarily have to endure pressure. Today, I can feel it more knowing that I am with Thibaut, but I don’t overthink about it. I’m just happy with the way it’s going now. I am fortunate to be next to Thibaut and it gives me a lot of experience.
Do you have any regrets about your early career?
Honestly, not really. My only regret is that I haven’t yet succeeded in the Critérium du Dauphiné like I would have liked to. I’ve done it three times and I did not necessarily get lucky, but it is how it is. Otherwise, I have no regrets. I am very happy with my race schedule every year and it is going very well. The proof is that we succeeded in managing a season from A to Z last year. I have been there from the Tour La Provence and the UAE Tour to the Tour of Lombardy, by way of the Tour de Romandie, the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France. At the end of the day, these are little things that we can be satisfied with. When a season is that consistent despite being that busy, it means the program is well managed and that the previous years were not pointless. So I can only be happy and I can’t have any regrets about my program, my training, and generally my first three years in the pros.
Is it however frustrating not to be as dominant as in the young categories?
That’s just sport. If I was the best everywhere, I think I would be bored after a while. If I won all the races which I took part in, there wouldn’t necessarily be a stake anymore. As competitors, we especially like to compete against others. To win a race where it’s tighter, after a good fight, is one of the best feelings you can get. The best victories can come after a long solo, of course, but also at the top of a climb after a nice duel. I can’t wait to be able to secure my first WorldTour mountain victory. I can’t wait to get a big win. The one in Romandie last year was already very beautiful, and it’s something I can’t wait to do again, but in the high mountains this time. I hope it will come, but it’s hard to feel when you’re not in a race. My progression suggests that it can happen. I don’t want to keep having no victory in the mountains, to remain among the well-placed ones rather than as a winner. I hope I will be able to win some great races soon, and I have a great example to follow in the team in Thibaut.