David Gaudu – Groupama-FDJ
French hopeful Thibaut Pinot offered countless memorable moments at this year’s Tour de France, but it’s his young lieutenant who facilitated plenty of those daring exploits out on the road.
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David Gaudu is only 22 years old, riding his second Tour de France, but rode with the head and legs of a veteran.
Riding as a mountain domestique for Pinot, fellow Frenchman Gaudu’s most impressive show came on stage 14 to the summit of the Tourmalet, where he hit the front on the final climb and set a fearsome pace.
That work set Pinot up for an emphatic stage victory and pulled him right back into the overall fight.
While it ended in disaster for Pinot, who was forced to pull out on the penultimate mountain stage, Gaudu confirmed his blossoming talent by finishing second in the youth classification behind overall winner Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), also 22.
Gaudu’s 13th place finish on general classification also sets him up as a serious Grand Tour contender in future years.
George Bennett – Jumbo-Visma
In the opening week Kiwi Bennett held his own on GC, sitting fourth overall before any hopes of a strong placing were dashed when he was one of a slew of riders caught out in crosswinds on stage 10 to Albi.
But the 29-year-old, who has finished in the top 10 of both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, seamlessly stepped into a support role for Steven Kruijswijk in the mountains.
It’s hard to pinpoint a stand-out performance from Bennett because he was so consistent, but the shortened final mountain stage to Val Thorens was particularly worthy of note, as he blasted the front of the race for the first half of the seemingly endless final climb, helping Kruijswijk onto the podium.
Dylan van Baarle – Team Ineos
Team Ineos had plenty to be disappointed about in the first 18 stages of the Tour de France, whether it be narrowly missing out on team time trial victory, again on the stage 13 individual time trial, their difficulty in overthrowing Julian Alaphilippe, or the struggling of their traditionally reliable domestiques.
While Michał Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon were unable to provide the valuable support of previous years, another Ineos rider stepped up.
Dylan van Baarle was riding his first Tour as part of the British outfit, having missed out on selection last year, and was determined to prove his worth on all terrain.
A strong time triallist, Van Baarle was a big engine for the team time trial and guiding the peloton, while his Classics pedigree helped him help the team on chaotic days like stage three to Épernay.
But the 27-year-old was also an asset in the mountains, particularly on the dramatic stage 18 (Bahrain-Merida) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
The Dutchman sat up to then support his team-mates on the Col de l’Iseran, where Egan Bernal took the yellow jersey.
Max Richeze – Deceuninck – Quick-Step
It wasn’t just the mountains where the unsung heroes shone through, with Quick-Step’s Max Richeze perhaps the lead-out rider most deserving of plaudits.
The Belgian team have mastered the ever-evolving art of the lead-out, being able to place Elia Viviani perfectly in any type of fast finish, from technical and narrow to a pure-speed drag race.
Former sprinter Richeze helped Viviani to his only stage win of this year’s Tour and plenty more near misses, but his most notable achievement was his fourth place finish on the Champs-Élysées stage.
The Argentinian national champion lost his sprinter in the chaotic final, with Viviani hitting the final straight outside of the top-10 places, and without missing a beat Richeze stepped into the sprinters role, chasing down Edvald Boasson Hagen but being bested by younger men at the line.
Cees Bol – Sunweb
Sunweb suffered a disappointing Tour de France, having lost their leader Tom Dumoulin before the race even started and with Michael Matthews off his best form.
But there was hope for optimism in the form of their young Dutch sprinter and lead-out rider Cees Bol, riding his first Grand Tour.
Bol, 24, helped Matthews to a fourth-place finish on stage 10 to Albi, before taking the reins as sprinter the following day and finishing eighth in Toulouse.
He was forced to abandon the race on stage 16 along with Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang and Sunweb may have left without a victory, but the work of Bol bought them very close and his own potential as a sprinter means his time will no doubt come soon enough.