On the final climb of the shortened stage four on Thursday, Marc Soler (Movistar) attempted to gain time on the peloton as he attacked up Turo del Puig.
Joining him was David Gaudu (FDJ), who aged 20 and born in October, is the youngest rider in the WorldTour; Britain’s James Shaw (Lotto-Soudal) is the fifth youngest.
As Gaudu and Soler sought to eek out a time gap, they were joined by two of the general classification favourites and two of the sport’s biggest names – Chris Froome and Soler’s teammate, Valverde.
The bunch behind, insistent on a sprint, reigned the attack in – Froome insisted he bridged across to act as a deterrent – but for Gaudu it was a cherished few minutes.
“At first I did not see they were there,” he told Le Télégramme. “I turned, [and] there was Valverde, there was Froome, it was the dream escape!”
Gaudu is quite a formidable talent, described by FDJ boss Marc Madiot as a “rare climber”.
He won the Tour de l’Avenir – the U23 race that shines a light on up-and-coming talent – when just 19 last year, an age that is remarkably young even in the race that is dedicated to future riders.
Last year, he also won the Peace Race and finished fifth in the Tour de l’Ain, with WorldTour opposition all around him.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who took sixth place in the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010, recently said of Gaudu when asked to name cycling’s brightest prospect: “The clear one for us is the Frenchman who won the Tour de L’Avenir, David Gaudu,”
“He will be a climber to watch. I haven’t raced with him yet, but he has some proper good results in the amateur ranks. He clearly has big climbing abilities.”
Gaudu has already raced the Tour of Algarve and two one-day races this season, and he hasn’t ruled out attacking once again in the final three days of the Catalonian race.
“I’m happy, I have good sensations,” he added. “Friday’s stage will be decisive for the general. There should be war between the favourites but if I still have the legs…”