Tour de France 2023: Gaudu and Bardet's Podium Ambitions Take a Hit After the First Week
In what has been a disappointing first week for French cyclists David Gaudu and Romain Bardet, their hopes of securing a podium finish in the Tour de France 2023 have taken a significant blow. The duo finished behind their rivals in the general classification during the stage at Puy de Dôme on Sunday.
As they approached the finish line, it was evident that both Gaudu and Bardet were exhausted, struggling to keep up with Thibaut Pinot. Gaudu, representing Groupama-FDJ, had just conquered the grueling slopes of Puy de Dôme, with gradients reaching up to 14%. Shortly after, Bardet, riding for DSM, crossed the finish line 18 seconds later. The punishing climb in the Auvergne region had clearly taken its toll on both riders, and they had likely lost more than just drops of sweat.
Ultimately, they finished more than two minutes behind Tadej Pogacar (UAE), who claimed victory in the 9th stage, with a time of 8 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Michael Woods. While it is not disgraceful considering the Slovenian's incredible pace, which only Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) has managed to match, Gaudu and Bardet also fell behind other contenders for the podium.
Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla), Thomas Pidcock, Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos), and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) all finished the stage more than a minute ahead of the French duo. They not only surpassed Gaudu and Bardet in the general classification but also managed to keep up with Pogacar and Vingegaard during the early attacks in the mountainous stage. Bardet expressed his surprise, stating, "We were focused on the final kilometers. I didn't expect them to push us to the limit from the start. It was far from what we hoped to achieve."
At the end of the first week, Bardet, who had hoped to shine on his beloved Puy de Dôme, currently sits in 10th place in the overall standings, trailing behind Australian Hindley, who briefly wore the yellow jersey and currently holds the third spot, by 4 minutes and 18 seconds. Gaudu, in eighth place, trails by 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Although this deficit is significant, it is not insurmountable for the two French riders, considering their previous podium finishes.
Bardet has reached the podium twice before, in 2016 and 2017, while Gaudu secured the second spot in the recent Paris-Nice race. Sandwiched between Pogacar and Vingegaard, Gaudu made a strong impression and raised hopes of a similar performance in the Tour. However, he has struggled to keep up with the best riders in the Pyrenees and on Puy de Dôme. Gaudu's teammate, Valentin Madouas, remarked, "David was not far from failure today; he is performing at his level." This statement raises questions about Gaudu's maximum potential.
Similarly, Christian Guiberteau, the sports director of DSM, expressed optimism about Bardet's performance, stating, "Romain is where he should be, and there hasn't been a day without progress." However, he also acknowledged, "We are still digesting this stage." While it is not time to panic, Bardet and Gaudu will need to regroup after a rest day to regain their form.
Madouas, the French champion, believes that the upcoming mountain stages offer opportunities for the duo. He said, "There is a lot to be done in the upcoming climbs, and the differences will be made in the sequences." The remaining stages, with their mountainous profiles and only one individual time trial, suit the strengths of climbers like Gaudu and Bardet. Pinot, now an invaluable support rider for Gaudu, affirmed, "I think a podium finish is still possible. And if not a podium, a top-five position is not too shabby either!" However, bridging the gap will require matching the performance of the top contenders.