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The French tricolore became visible from beneath the stones of the Super Planche on Friday.
“It’s a good day,” Gaudu said after scaling five places in the classification. “We are still on track for the goal we set ourselves, about 20 seconds off the podium. I had good feelings, not the best ever, but they were OK.”
With Julian Alaphilippe a non-starter and heartbreak hero Thibaut Pinot hunting stages, Gaudu bares the brunt of the burden heaped on French riders by the expectant public.
Also read: Analysis: French hopes at the Tour de France
The 25-year-old emerged from the cobblestones unscathed and kicked to the podium in Longwy in a first week only flawed by a weak TT.
“I’m satisfied, we are where we wanted to be,” Gaudu’s team boss Marc Madiot said after stage 7 on Friday. “Two riders looked stronger in the last kilometer [Pogačar and Vingegaard], but behind them, we are at the same level as the others. It’s very interesting.”
Do home hopes stop at third?
The stage 7 Super Planche showdown marked the first true climbing test of the Tour.
Pogačar and Vingegaard openened the afterburners in the final hundred meters and left the chasers choking on the dust to expose what might turn into a race for the podium.
Bardet knows his place.
“I never claimed to play in the court of Tadej Pogačar. It was hard. It was going well until the final. When we took the gravel kilometer, I lost speed, I couldn’t keep Geraint Thomas’ wheel,” Bardet said Friday.
“It’s a matter of seconds, but I’m still happy with my effort. In 2019 I ended up crawling up here. It was a little better this year.”
How far can the French go in the next two weeks?
Pogačar looks bulletproof on all terrain. Vingegaard has rockets in his heels going uphill and a strong squad to support him. Ineos Grenadiers flood the top-10 and bring both numbers and know-how.
Gaudu sits at 1:32 on GC with Bardet just one second behind him to leave both a shade more than 20 seconds from third overall.
Bardet was the last French rider to stand on the GC podium in Paris with third in 2017. The DSM ace ruled out a classification quest after abandoning the Giro d’Italia but has found himself in the position to start one anyway.
“I’m pretty happy with the day, we worked well throughout the stage and will look to carry on like this,” Bardet said Friday.
At just 25-years-old and with only one grand tour top-10 on his palmarès, Gaudu has a steep curve to hit the Paris podium.
Navigating the perilous first phase of the race marks just the start of a race many say only began on the Super Planche. Hard-kicking climber Gaudu will be relishing the Alps and Pyrénées on the near horizon.
“I am fifth among the favorites, but I must stay focused. The Tour has only just begun, this was only the first test,” he said.