Closing the gap: David Gaudu emerges from Paris-Nice more confident than ever before

The Groupama-FDJ rider finished second overall at the Race to the Sun, but gained more than just the result

David Gaudu
(Image credit: Getty Images)

David Gaudu has been the coming thing of French cycling for a few years now, the Groupama-FDJ rider being on the radar of cycling watchers since his third place at the UAE Tour four years ago. As his compatriot and teammate Thibaut Pinot has faded, the buck has passed to the Breton, the future hope of a nation desperate for GC success.

At Paris-Nice last week, the 26-year-old took another step forward, finishing on the podium in the starry company of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), the winners of the last three Tours de France collectively.

This was his second WorldTour podium, after the UAE Tour in 2019, and his first in Europe, the first that one feels really matters.

It was not just the result which impressed, but the manner with which Gaudu rode. He was able to attack on stage four to La Loge des Gardes, even if he was eventually beaten by Pogačar, and on stage seven to the Col de la Couillole, he was the only rider able to follow the Slovenian, and again finished second.

At last year's Tour de France, Gaudu finished fourth, a stellar result, but he was six minutes off Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in third, and 11 minutes behind Pogačar in second. This year, it feels like something has changed.

His Swiss teammate, Stefan Küng, agreed with this sentiment: "I think he will gain a huge amount of confidence out of this race, because even though he was fourth in the Tour last year, he was far away from the other two riders for sure. 

"Now, I feel he has really narrowed the gap to these two. I think he will feel that as well himself. As soon as they went, he was riding his rhythm, limiting his losses, and now he's not afraid of following, of even attacking them. It's really cool to see."

The diminutive man is from Landivisiau, about as northwest as you can possibly get in France without touching the Atlantic Ocean, but he feels central to France's hopes for a first Tour de France win since 1985 and Bernard Hinault. We all know the story.

Perhaps it has been easy to dismiss Gaudu before, due to his bookish look - he wears glasses off the bike, and prescription lenses on it - and his height, but it feels like he is here to stay. Even the Anglophone media needs to start paying attention.

David Gaudu

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"For this whole week, I’ve been in the battle," he said. "In my head, I’m really motivated and I don’t want to have any regrets or look back in a year’s time and think I could've followed him [Pogačar].

"Today, this year, this week, we’re trying to learn how to respond to attacks and attack ourselves. I’m happy to be at this level, but there’s still stage nine, so we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves."

Küng, three years Gaudu's senior, has seen the progression in his teammate through the years.

"I've seen quite a development with him over the last few years," he explained. "Now, he's calmer, more mature. Before, he had a lot of temper, and now he's able to channel his temper and do good things with it. Otherwise, he's pretty calm, so it was a bit all or nothing, but now he is more stable. 

"He's confident in his abilities and in his teammates. I think this is what we see today, as well as another little progression that he has made from year to year."

The Swiss rider also echoed the thought that it is Gaudu's performances over Paris-Nice that have been as impressive as the result itself.

"It's hard to say, sometimes when you see a teammate going strong in training, it's different to in a race," Küng said. "But for sure, as good as he's going now, he will gain a lot of confidence out of this. He didn't quite have that three, four years ago, and now he is really good, this is what you need when you want to win a race like this. You have to be confident in your abilities. This is already a good sign."

David Gaudu

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The team are not getting carried away, but they were also delighted with second at Paris-Nice; one could see that from the way they greeted each other post-stage eight. Perhaps Pogačar is one step too far, but on this form, you can see Gaudu challenging throughout the season, and at the Tour.

"During our debriefing, we didn't talk about regrets," his directeur sportif, Philippe Mauduit said. "We mainly emphasised the fact that the guys did a great job for eight days. They were involved in the race every day, they never suffered, they even had a head start at times.

"Collectively, it worked really well and David took full advantage of it. As I said yesterday, having this team around him helps to make him even more confident. There is no great leader without a great team. We announced at the start of the race in Paris that we wanted to be as close as possible to the podium. We knew, since last year, that David was close to the best, but there was still some work to do to play with them.

"This week, he showed that he was capable of doing it, not only on one stage but over the whole week. His consistency is interesting. We will savour what has been done in Paris-Nice, learn from what worked well and examine the small details that we can improve."

As for Gaudu, what waits for him next is Itzulia Basque Country next month, where he can once again test himself against Vingegaard. On this form, one would suggest the Frenchman could win it. Then, the sky is the limit.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.