While most of the attention was on the battle between world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) on the upper slopes of Jebel Hafeet, there was one young rider never far from their wheels. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is just 22 years old, but the Frenchman coped wiith the aggressive final climb on stage 3 of the UAE Tour better than most of his more experienced rivals.
Gaudu, who finished sixth overall at the Tour de la Provence earlier this month, lost just four seconds to Valverde and Roglic to finish third on the stage and move up to third in the general classification, 31 seconds down on Roglic, with four stages remaining.
"Yeah, it was a good ride. I liked the last climb, it was a medium percentage, so I just had to follow the team doing a good job on the bottom of the climb. Afterwards, I followed Roglic, I attacked once. At the finish, I was trying for the win, but the others were too strong," Gaudu told Cyclingnews.
"It has been a good start to the season. I did my first altitude camp, so I think that I have had some very good benefits from it. I began in Provence, I did a god job for Thibaut [Pinot] and now I can put my mind to the GC here."
The UAE Tour is the first chance that Gaudu has had to fight for the general classification at WorldTour level. A strong result here could be a stepping stone to his bigger ambitions in cycling.
"I'm young and in my career, if I can, I want to be the best in GC at Grand Tours. It's my dream to ride the Tour de France for the GC," said Gaudu.
As a promising French Grand Tour talent, there has been plenty of attention surrounding Gaudu and his potential since he turned professional in 2017. He won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2016 and the French coach Pierre-Yves Chatelon tipped him to be as good as future teammate Pinot and fellow Tour podium finisher Romain Bardet.
The attention is even greater in his home region of Brittany, where the comparison is to France's last Tour champion - and Brittany native - Bernard Hinault. The mountains are not big in Brittany, but Gaudu still loves to train there.
"We have a lot of champions that are from Brittany," Gaudu said. "When you say Brittany, you can say it's the country of the bike. We don't have mountains, but I think it is a good place to ride."
With Pinot choosing to ride the Giro d'Italia last season, Gaudu was given an opportunity to ride the Tour de France as his debut Grand Tour. The Tour is a pressure pot for any Grand Tour rider, but particularly those from France. However, the pressure was eased from Gaudu's shoulders with the team's focus on Arnaud Demare. Still a neo-pro at the time, it was a steep learning curve for him but he finished fourth in the best young rider's classification.
"The first time at the Tour de France it is a little bit crazy," he said. "You are there with all the champions and it's long and hard, it's three weeks and you learn that one day you can have your best day of the Tour and then the day after you can say 'I'm not very good'. It's very long, very hard and you have to concentrate for the whole three weeks.
"I was happy because I could play in the mountain stages, afterwards the team protected me, we won a stage with Arnaud, and I finished the Tour de France, so I was happy."
Now into his third year, Gaudu is beginning his transition from being a rider racing to learn to a rider racing for results. The pressure has increased this season, but he's still eager to learn from the team's major leader, Pinot.
"I think that my first year was very good and the second one was less so," said Gaudu. "I have passed my first two years; the team has said to me to just learn the job, and now the team is expecting more of me. They need good results not just in French races but I also need to do good results in WorldTour races.
"I think that I want to ride a lot with Thibaut to learn at the maximum about how he is riding and if I can do the Tour de France with him it would be the best thing."
For the moment, Gaudu is focused on trying to maintain his position in the overall classification at the UAE Tour. First, he must face Hatta Dam before the summit finish of Jebel Jais on stage 6. It's a different kind of climb to Hafeet at twice the distance, though on a much steadier gradient. Wind could play a major factor too.
"We have to pay attention the whole time and on the other stages we also have to pay attention all the time because here there is a lot of wind. When the peloton is nervous, you can lose all the time for the podium," explained Gaudu.
"I have just seen the profile. I don't know it but I think that Valverde won't want to be second, so I think he will attack on the climb, but Roglic is a strong rider."