It was supposed to be the first bunch sprint of the 2021 Tour de France. In the streets of Pontivy, there eventually were only a dozen to compete for the win due to a series of crashes in the final. Caught in one of them with five kilometres to go, Arnaud Démare was unable to fight for victory, but fortunately finished unscathed. Miles Scotson managed to get through the crashes and finished twelfth on the line. As for David Gaudu, he ended the stage twenty-six seconds behind the winner Tim Merlier and now sits twelfth in the overall standings.
“There is not room for everyone”, Frédéric Guesdon
Following two lively first stages, dominated by the world’s best punchers, the pure sprinters were supposed to really appear on stage on Monday, in the third Brittany’s day of the Tour between Lorient and Pontivy. As the race scenario was pretty much known for everyone, the breakaway went quite early on with five men: Cyril Barthe, Maxime Chevallier (B&B Hotels), Michael Schär (AG2R-Citroën), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis) as well as the polka dot jersey wearer, Ide Schelling (Bora-hansgrohe). The peloton took it easy for a few moments, but two teams soon got on the front line to take on the chase, including the Groupama-FDJ cycling team for Arnaud Démare. On home soil, Valentin Madouas went on duty for more than a hundred kilometres. “We absolutely wanted a sprint at the end, and Valentin was named to pull behind the break,” explained Frédéric Guesdon. “He did a great job. With Thomas De Gendt, they kept the breakaway within two minutes all the time”. The young Frenchman then handed it over to his teammates; more precisely after the intermediate sprint where Arnaud Démare gained seven additional points.
The race then entered the final sixty kilometers, and with unstable weather, the tension escalated within the peloton. “Given the route, it obviously gets nervous quite early on,” Frédéric said. “The roads are winding, not very wide, there is a big crowd and some villages are difficult to go through… Everyone has the same goal: to be in front. The sprinters want to go for the victory and the GC contenders don’t want to lose time. That’s a lot of people, and there just isn’t room for everyone”. In this very tense final, a series of crashes began with about ten kilometres to go as many leaders were trying to make their way through ahead of the final downhill. Valentin Madouas was one of the first riders to crash, luckily without damage. Primoz Roglic also hit the ground a few moments later, then several riders were caught in a crash with five kilometres to go. Arnaud Démare was unfortunately among them.
“Obviously frustrated and disappointed”, Arnaud Démare
The former French champion was able to get up and continue, but his hopes were then gone up in smoke. “I said this morning that the final was going to be tense,” said the man. “Luckily it didn’t rain, but it was still a carnage with dry weather. I crashed and there is not much to say… A rider went straight on a turn and I just hit him. I am obviously frustrated and disappointed because I was in a good position”. Because of the numerous splits, a tiny peloton entered the final kilometre, and another crash occurred in the sprint with Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan. Tim Merlier eventually took the win after this chaotic final. “It’s of course disappointing not being able to go for the win because of a crash in the first sprint of the Tour,” said Frédéric. “Now, let’s try to be positive. Arnaud hasn’t broken anything, he will be at the start tomorrow and we will refocus to do a good stage and a good sprint”. “After the crash, I did not feel so bad,” added Arnaud. “Let’s now hope that the pain won’t wake up, as we all know crashes always have consequences. Eventually, I got through it ok. I will enjoy the osteopath session tonight, try to recover, and I hope to be ready from tomorrow”.
At the finish, only Miles Scotson crossed the line with the first group, in twelfth position. Delayed by the crashes, David Gaudu finished twenty-six seconds later in the Pogacar group. He is now twelfth overall, fifty-two seconds behind Mathieu van der Poel and twenty-one from the podium. “It’s always a pity to lose time, but once again we have to be positive,” concluded Frédéric Guesdon. “It could have been a lot worse. In the end, twenty seconds lost on such a stage, it’s not the end of the world”.