Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) dominated the headlines on the pivotal stage 17 summit finish of the Vuelta a Epsana but the day also belonged to David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) who claimed his second stage of the race and moved from 11th to eighth overall ahead of the final stage into Madrid.
Gaudu and his teammate Bruno Armirail made it into a group of over 30 riders that broke clear in the opening kilometers, and despite being outnumbered by UAE Team Emirates the French duo set about masterminding a near faultless performance. Armirail, who also played a part in Gaudu’s first stage win earlier in the race, set the pace for most of the day and then burnt off a number of breakaway rivals before Gaudu made his winning moving on the final climb of the Alto de la Covatilla.
Gaudu still had to cut through a group of three that had attacked just before the final ascent but the Frenchman had more than enough in the tank to win ahead of Gino Mader (NTT Pro Cycling) and Ion Izagirre (Astana). The win helped catapult Gaudu into eighth – his best result in a Grand Tour to date and capped a dramatic turn around after a difficult opening few days that saw the Frenchman lose time and see his team leader Thibaut Pinot go home.
"To be frank, we thought it was going to be difficult to get me in the breakaway because, in week three, everyone is running over for the overall places," Gaudu said after his stage win.
“I thought about it this morning. I thought to myself: why not today, why not me? In addition, the weather conditions pleased me. It was an instinctive day. This kind of day is exceptional."
"I was already very happy, and even ecstatic, to have been able to win the first stage. Winning a second is the icing on the cake, and getting into the top 10 is also hitting the goals we set for ourselves. The Vuelta was already successful, but with two wins and a final top 10, it is even more so. We would have signed up for that from the start ”.
Gaudu admitted that his win on stage 17 was only possible because of the work performed by Armirail. The 26-year-old was a constant presence on the front for almost all of the 150-kilometer long breakaway and singlehandedly matched a clutch of UAE Team Emirates riders who were looking for the stage and to propel David de la Cruz further up the top-ten. The Spaniard achieved the latter goal and will ride into Madrid with a well-deserved seventh place overall but Armirail was key in keeping the break out of sight and setting up the opportunity for a stage win.
“We spent the whole day riding, UAE and I. We managed well, it went well and my feelings were really good,” a rather modest Armirail said.
“I said yesterday that my performance bodes well for today. I think I confirmed it. It was exactly the same as a week ago, and it was great to be in front with David. I rode as much as possible, for as long as possible. I did my best for him and the work has paid off, it's great. "
Armirail’s ride impressed the Groupama FDJ management immensely, with Thierry Bricaud praising the rider’s commitment and work ethic.
"What he did today is a cut above what he usually did, but we knew he was able to do it. He is never as good as in this type of effort, in difficult and tiring stages, in medium or high mountains, in the service of a leader. What's more, when it's someone he appreciates, like David. For the record, we briefed Bruno at the start of Vuelta. We wanted to avoid him putting in unnecessary efforts because we knew he could be very strong at certain stages. He is so generous that he sometimes wastes strength unnecessarily. We tried to manage these stages well with him and I think we did well. Because in the end, when he had carte blanche, he always responded and was very strong. This enabled him to set a very good time in the time trial but also to accompany David to victory twice. David is very strong but he owes much of his victory to him.”
Gaudu's top-ten overall solidifies his place as a GC option going forward within the French team. He has been considered as Pinto's heir for several seasons and while next year's plans are far from complete the Vuelta demonstrates Gaudu's continued development
“David has taken up the logical thread of his career. It is improving every year. This year was special, but finishing the season as it does, confirms its constant evolution. The first week was a bit difficult but he got into it well as he went along. It will give him certainties for his future on the Grand Tours and that's very good," Bricaud added.
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