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“If you’d told me before the start that I’d be sat there, 30-odd seconds off the podium at the end of the first week, I’d have taken that right away,” the Groupama-FDJ racer told journalists Monday in a rest day press conference.
“I felt pretty good in the mountains. I was just behind the very best, Pogačar and Vingegaard. That gives me a lot of motivation.”
Gaudu avoided the pitfalls of the first week and finished with the bunch on the cobbles. His only adverse experience came on the road to Lausanne on stage 8.
Caught up in an early crash, he emerged unscathed without losing time.
“Having a Tour de France without a fall is virtually impossible,” he said at the time. “If that’s our worst day of the race, and there’s always one, I’ll take that.”
The 25-year-old is one second ahead of Team DSM captain and compatriot Romain Bardet. Though it’s something his home media puts a lot of stock in, Gaudu has no interest in the idea of finishing as the best-placed Frenchman.
“’I’ve always said that it doesn’t mean anything, and I’ll keep on saying it. At the end of the day, if you start playing that game between French riders who are fifth or sixth overall, we won’t move forward.”
Gaudu also mused over another burning question: how to beat race leader Tadej Pogačar?
“Even isolated on the pavé, he was very strong. You never know, he could crack. Nobody is immune to a jour sans. But for now, I think he’s the strongest rider. I think a lot of teams are also wondering how to dethrone him, and I don’t have the answer either.”
Gaudu’s ardor for the Alps
“I’m looking forward to getting into the Alps, my favorite mountain range. It’s an area that I know almost off by heart,” he said.
Gaudu has done many training rides there. Stage 11 and 12 promise to be the hardest of the race so far, finishing on the Col de Granon and Alpe d’Huez respectively, and they’re the ones that give him the most motivation.
There is a romantic appeal too: he remembers watching the Tour go up the Alpe’s mythical 21 hairpins on the television as a child, then re-enacting it on a corner at his home.
The Tour is heating up
With a heatwave due to hit France on Tuesday, there is the possibility that temperatures could reach 40 degrees Celsius later in the week.
“It worries me a bit,” Gaudu said. “I hope we’ll avoid the worst by being in the mountains at altitude. But it’s not something you can ultimately prevent: your body either says yes or no to the heat.”
The Frenchman added that had been doing a lot of sauna sessions before coming to the Tour in anticipation of the sweltering conditions. Notably, Gaudu fell out of top 10 GC contention at last year’s race after suffering heatstroke in the Pyrenees and losing over 20 minutes to the favorites.
The Groupama-FDJ climber came into the race dreaming of a podium finish and a stage win, and believes his pre-race ambitions are compatible.
“I want to cross the line at the Tour de France with my arms aloft, like any rider, and I think it’s possible,” he said.
“I’ve already won races à la pedale [through pure strength], in front of the best riders, whether that’s against Pogačar, Vingegaard or the Ineos arsenal. I believe in the principle that every rider is beatable one day and it’s about waiting for the right moment for yourself.”