David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) finished 20th at Milano-Torino, but the final result explained little about the 22-year-old Frenchman's race and overshadowed an impressive performance on the day of his 22nd birthday.
The young Frenchman was one of the strongest on the 4.3km climb up to the Superga Basilica, setting up teammate Thibaut Pinot for victory with a show of form and maturity beyond his years. However, his birthday ended farcically when he tangled with Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and both crashed.
The crash wrecked Lopez's chances of victory and allowed Pinot to distance world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and win Milano-Torino. Lopez got back up quickly to finish second and salvage something from his race, while Gaudu rode in, happy to have helped and not hindered Pinot.
"I don't really know what happened. It all happened so quickly that at first I thought I'd crashed with Jakob Fuglsang [Astana] rather than Lopez," Gaudu admitted, slightly embarrassed but able to laugh off the crash.
"I was riding for Thibaut because he’d asked me to set a hard pace. I felt great today and this finish suited me. I gave it my all and then moved to one side and looked across. At the same moment Lopez came up and we kind of rode into each other. I suppose I took him down. I'm sorry and hope he is OK."
Lopez confirmed he was uninjured, but while Gaudu could at least celebrate his birthday with Pinot's victory, the Colombian climber could only lick his wounds after the final race of his 2018 season.
"In a split second everything changed and I went down," Lopez said after the podium ceremony with Pinot and third-placed Valverde. "Fortunately, I was able to get up and had the legs to ride and finish on the podium. I'm not hurt. It's a pity because I saw that Alejandro was suffering and the race could have ended differently."
Despite a show of form on the climb to Superga, Lopez will not ride Saturday's Il Lombardia, sticking to his plans to end his season with Milano-Torino.
"This podium ends my season, and it's been a great season," he said without regret.
"I'm not riding Lombardia because while I trained for the World Championships, I didn't train for the Classic and didn't train for the long distances. I have good legs and was happy to ride Milano-Torino, but Lombardia is something else."