David Gaudu stepped up a level during 2021 but the 25-year-old Groupama-FDJ rider and rising star of French cycling is looking to do even better in 2022 as he continues his journey from Thibaut Pinot's understudy to team leader.
Last season he came third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, fifth (including a stage win) at the Tour of the Basque Country, and delivered top 10 finishes at the Flèche-Wallonne and the Tour of Lombardy. For 2022, he is looking forward to the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France, where he will share the role of team leader with Pinot and Michael Storer.
"I finished the season being in the top 20 in the UCI World Rankings, so I am really happy and I want to continue the 2022 season in the same way," Gaudu said. "My aim is to convert top 10 positions to top 5 positions, top 5 positions to podium places, and if I could convert my podium places into victories, that would be amazing.
"The Ardennes Classics remain an important part of my objectives as I particularly enjoy those races, especially the Flèche [Wallonne] and the Liège [Bastogne-Liège]. The Flèche, with the finish at the Mur de Huy is one of the best finishes in the season, while the Liège remains a race I dream of winning."
This time 12 months ago, the Breton was seen as a chief domestique for Thibaut Pinot in the mountain stages at the Tour de France, not knowing that four months later he would gain a sudden promotion to a lead rider spot in the big race. Hungry to do well, the 25-year old grabbed the opportunity with both hands and has thrived on the pressure of being a leader.
"To become one of the leaders of the team in a big race is a chance to build my self-confidence, given that the team has put its trust in you and the team is built specially around you. For sure, that situation helps you aim for a higher level, and I also like that pressure," Gaudu told Cyclingnews during the online Groupama-FDJ team launch.
"When you come out of a really good season you feel a lot more confident, but I must still keep my feet on the ground. Every season you still have to put the counter to zero and start from the beginning. You can't become complacent."
Gaudu has had some solid results in Italy, notably in the autumn Classics where he was sixth at Milano-Torino and seventh at Il Lombardia. He had also expressed his desire to compete in the 2022 Giro d'Italia which will be even more mountainous than in previous years. However, this is not on his programme and he understands the need to prioritise the home Grand Tour.
"The Tour de France is the race where the team is keen to shine, especially as we are a French team. It's a very important race in the year, and we owe it to our sponsors," Gaudu said.
"We haven't won anything in the Tour since 2019, so we feel a duty to ourselves to hunt for success there, given how competitive and motivated we are."
Concerning the Tour de France, Gaudu couldn't say who would be the leader in the race, referencing what team manager Marc Madiot had said about the objective being a podium place on the back of a collective effort. The season and the initial stages would determine who would be the eventual leader, and whoever is the leader, the result would be based on the team leveraging its strength as a whole.
Faced with the prospect of Gaudu ending up as a team rider rather than leader, contrary to last year, and putting aside his personal goals, the 2021 11th-placed Tour de France rider was pragmatic.
"Well, to be a leader in the Tour is something I would really like. But we haven't yet started the season and we will have the chance to express ourselves in the races. The aim of the Tour is to get the best result possible and get the best position in the GC using the collective strength of the team," he said.
Gaudu remains confident about his ability in the Tour despite having had an off-day during the Mont Ventoux stage last year when he rolled in 25 minutes behind the winner after suffering from heat exhaustion.
"Well, that was the only off-day I had last year. It's true it happened on the wrong day. It could happen to anyone and on any day. Is it really an alarming problem for me? I would say no, because it was the only time it happened all year. I am returning to the Tour this year and will be fighting fit. We will just keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't happen again.
"We are ready to go into combat, just as Marc [Madiot] said. We're about to go on a training camp, and I am looking forward to starting the season and seeing where I am and if I am on form to win some races."
Gaudu will start his season in Portugal on 16th February with the Tour of the Algarve, followed by the Trofeo de Laigueglia. His first big test will be Paris-Nice in early March.
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