While Primož Roglič has hitherto sailed serenely through every challenge that he’s faced at Paris-Nice, the same can’t be said for his rivals at 'the race to the sun'. Richie Porte crashed out on day one, his Ineos Grenadiers co-leader Tao Geoghegan Hart suffered the same fate on stage 4, and UAE Team Emirates’ Brandon McNulty went the same way on stage 6.
Although he’s made it to the final weekend, Groupama-FDJ leader David Gaudu has also seen his hopes hit by a crash, the same one that took out Geoghegan Hart on the second descent from Mont Brouilly in Beaujolais hills.
The 24-year-old Frenchman remounted to finish seventh that day and goes into the race’s final weekend just a place outside the top 10, which was his minimum target at the start in Paris.
He arrived in the French capital with what his coach David Han described as "super legs", boosted by "the biggest January of his career", which featured two training camps in Spain - the first in Tenerife, followed by another in Gran Canaria.
"The objective is to finish at the very least in the top-10; to be up in the top-5 would be the cherry on the cake," Gaudu stated in Paris.
For the first three days, the diminutive Breton looked on track to achieve that goal, his loss of 46 seconds to Roglič in the stage 3 time trial not as substantial as it would probably have been last season, after which Han started working him hard on the discipline. Stage 4 to Chiroubles was shaping up well, too, until Geoghegan Hart slid to the road negotiating a corner. Gaudu avoided the fallen Briton, but then slid into the verge.
"The race had been going very well until the second descent off Mont Brouilly. After that, the key requirement has simply been to lose as little time as possible on the GC," he said prior to starting stage 6 in Brignoles. He’s achieved that more or less, losing just 16 seconds to Roglič at Chiroubles, but Gaudu admits he’s still hampered by the knocks he took in that fall.
"Yesterday [stage 5] I was able to recover a little bit and spend a pretty quiet day in the bunch," he said. He admitted he was hoping for another relatively straightforward day to Biot, a stage that traditionally goes the way of a breakaway rider. However, it ended up being frantic from beginning to end, and Gaudu confessed he was tired but happy to have finished in the pack that came in on Roglič’s heels.
"It was a very fast and hard stage right from the start. I didn’t feel great as I’m still feeling the effects of my crash, but on the up side I managed to finish in the peloton. I hope that I’ll be ready and able to respond on the Colmiane tomorrow," he said of the penultimate day’s summit finish.
"I’m still hoping that I can finish well. I started off Paris-Nice really well and was looking forward to reaching the stages that really suited me. My crash left me with a bad memory but maybe I can erase it a little bit this weekend," he said, looking ahead to the final two days, where a top-5 place is still within his reach.
"I think that the Colmiane stage looks like being tougher than it originally was because it goes straight into the hills and it’s likely to be a lot more nervy with all the second-category climbs to start with, which could make it very hard indeed,” he said of the first of the weekend’s revamped stages.
"I still suspect, though, that the favourites will wait for the final climb of the Colmiane before they start to move because everyone knows that Jumbo-Visma, even without Tony Martin, have got a great team and they will want to control. The final stage looks a little bit easier than it was, but there’s a technical descent which will demand a degree of caution, and even though the climb is not that hard, the fact that the stage is only 96km long will mean that it’s very fast indeed."
Just 17 seconds off Movistar’s Matteo Jorgensen in fifth place, Gaudu is just about where he wanted to be with two days left. He might yet finish his Paris-Nice debut with the result that he wanted, despite the hard knocks.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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