David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) scored the biggest win of his career atop the Alto de la Farrapona at the Vuelta a España on Saturday, delivering a timely morale boost for his team and fulfilling his billing as the new French hope.
With Thibaut Pinot abandoning after the second stage of the race and Gaudu shedding a handful of minutes on the tricky opening stages through northern Spain, Groupama-FDJ abandoned its classification hopes and pivoted to stage wins with Gaudu and compatriot Bruno Armirail.
After the pair had failed to score for 10 days of racing, Gaudu delivered in style Saturday, easily outsprinting Marc Soler in the final 200 meters of the “queen stage” of this year’s Vuelta to uncork the pressure on his team, screaming with joy as he crossed the line.
“I screamed because I was relieved,” Gaudu said afterward. “The legs hurt in the past few days. But to win a stage like this, it’s huge for me.”
The French nation has watched Gaudu closely since he won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016, pinning its hopes on him as the next GC star to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Pinot and Romain Bardet.
However, since turning pro with Groupama-FDJ that same year, Gaudu has largely been left to play lieutenant for Pinot at the grand tours, though was able to step from his captain’s shadows at the Tour de France last summer after Pinot abandoned in the Alps. Gaudu went on to take 13th overall and claim second in the white jersey classification behind Egan Bernal.
However, the wheels came off for Groupama-FDJ at this year’s Tour when Pinot and Gaudu both hit the deck during a pileup in the rain-slicked roads of Nice on the opening stage. Pinot limped his way through to Paris way off the pace, while Gaudu abandoned on stage 16.
“I was complaining that it wasn’t going so well and this has been a complicated season,” Gaudu said after the stage. “We struggled at the Tour de France, and we came to the Vuelta to be more ambitious.”
Groupama-FDJ had shown its confidence in Gaudu this summer when they handed him a contract extension through 2023, looking to build a future GC bid around him.
“I think that in the next two years, [Gaudu] will get the chance to go for a general classification on a grand tour,” Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot said when renewing Gaudu’s contract this summer. “To be in pole position for a grand tour is the last step he’s got to make.”
With Pinot underperforming through 2020 and struggling with the burdens of shouldering the intense pressure from the French media as the nation’s top hope for Tour success, Gaudu’s impressive climbing victory Saturday may see him taking a step up the team ranking even earlier than his manager expected.