Arnaud Démare rarely approached Milano-Sanremo in such good conditions. Feeling really confident about his condition and his teammates, the Frenchman knows he has got what it takes to win again on the Via Roma, four years later. This ambition has also been supported by the last weeks of preparation and the collective work achieved since the season restart.

They lost each other after their extended stay at the Abu Dhabi hotel in early March. More than four months later, Arnaud Démare and his colleagues found each other back in Le Grand Bornand, in mid-July, for a “pre-season” training camp supposed to put them on track for Milan-San Remo, a month later. The internship was also supposed to get the collective stimulation going again. “The group is very solid, we now know each other very well, but for sure the training camp was very important to get back into a racing mentality, explains Jacopo Guarnieri. After the difficult times we went through, it was great to reconnect with this team life that we missed so much. The usual feelings quickly came back. Knowing that we have been riding together for 2-3 years, it takes very little time to find our bearings”. In the Alps, Arnaud Démare met again with his usual teammates, namely Jacopo Guarnieri, Ramon Sinkeldam, Miles Scotson and Ignatas Konovalovas. “I felt straight from the camp that the whole team was doing really good,” he says. “We felt that the quarantine had not affected us that much”. “What I was the most surprised about was to see the team already well prepared during the camp,” says Jacopo. “It also means that the coaches did a good job. We ended up with a good collective form at the right time, which meant that the basics had already been done, and well done, at home”.

“We’ll keep this confidence with us”, Jacopo Guarnieri

After six days made of hard work and internal competition, they all were able to take a few days off before heading to the first serious test. The season restart occurred on the Vuelta a Burgos and that is where they first showed their strength. “We wanted to resume racing and try to win immediately, and that’s the spirit we showed in Burgos,” says Arnaud. “We put in place what we had left hanging in UAE, where we hadn’t had a chance to compete on the last day. Five months later, we got back to this pattern and it worked out”. Although he was surprised by Fernando Gaviria on stage 2 and slowed down by a crash on stage 4, the French sprinter was nevertheless able to take some satisfaction out of his train’s performance. “This year we told ourselves: we do our race without looking at the others,” adds Jacopo. “I think this change in mentality can be seen if we compare the UAE Tour with the Vuelta a Burgos in particular. We also worked well with the video to analyse our sprints and our potential mistakes. During the briefing we talk to each other a lot, we compare our opinions and when we get off the bus, we know how we want to do our sprint. When you have a clear idea, and when you have the physical condition we currently have, everything is simpler: you can execute the scenario you have in mind. This approach is paying off and it naturally boosts everyone’s morale.”

These words got even truer on Milano-Torino on Wednesday, when Arnaud Démare could cross the line in first position after a perfect work by his teammates in the final kilometers. “We were great in Burgos, but when you don’t win it feels like something is missing,” Jacopo says. “In Milano-Torino, which is a nice ProSeries Classic with a great field, everyone followed the instructions well and we got the best result this time. We are very happy with the way things are going now. We’ll keep this confidence with us throughout the end of the season and I honestly think that we currently have one of the very best lead-out trains. We are really riding at a great level”. “We did a hell of a lead-out on Wednesday”, agrees Arnaud. “Collectively, it was very strong. Personally, I managed to make myself some space and I was able to sprint the way I wanted, with good legs and this aggressiveness that I had perhaps lost a bit in recent years. Work pays off, you shall never give up. I also lacked some self-confidence and that plays a lot. It was good to start from scratch this year”.

“They all are at the best level they can offer me”, Arnaud Démare

While he re-evaluated a few things in terms of training or preparation, Arnaud Démare also changed priorities in 2020. “As Nono said at the start of the year, the goal of the season was to win. To win any race, but to win, says Jacopo. Consequently, we will have the same approach in Milano-Sanremo than the one we had in Burgos or Milano-Torino. For the moment we can say that this way of doing is not that bad considering we have a first place and two second places. Milano-Sanremo is obviously an important race, it’s our first big goal of the season, but we didn’t want to bother ourselves speaking about it all the time. We knew it was going to come, but we also wanted to try to win before. That’s what we did”. Now comes the Classicissima, where the five men mentioned above will get the – welcomed – support of Stefan Küng. There will indeed only be six riders, given the organizer’s decision to invite two more teams. “We will adjust”, says Arnaud. “It’s new to everyone but I don’t think it makes a big difference. This will surely even block the race a little more. The breakaway will have a smaller advantage. The fewer riders we have, the less we will take risks”.

In addition to the loss of a rider per team, the peloton will have to deal with a course change that will make it avoid the traditional Turchino and Capi to make way for Colle di Nava before a long downhill towards the Cipressa. In the end, the key moments are still the same. Therefore, as good as Arnaud Démare’s lead-out has been doing lately, it will take on a whole different role on Saturday. “We are all rouleurs/sprinters in the roster, and that can be useful for positioning”, adds Jacopo. “Of course, our objective will not be to keep four riders to lead-out Arnaud in the last 200 meters. Our goal is for him to be there with 200m to go. Our role will obviously be to position him as well as possible before in the last two climbs, and especially at the foot of the Poggio”. It will then be up to the team’s leader to come in, and improvise. “You’ll have to watch out for everyone, but I fear more the punchers than the sprinters,” admits Arnaud. “They are the ones who can make the race explode. It will then be necessary to decide whether to try to follow or to wait. It will be done instinctively, and depending on the riders who are there. You can’t plan too much. Our first objectives are positioning objectives”.

The ultimate goal goes without saying. A few minutes after his victory in Torino, the former “Primavera” winner said he felt the team was a step ahead compared to previous years. “I have already felt that strong before Milano-Sanremo, but I never felt so well surrounded”, he repeated at a press conference. “I can count on my teammates even more than usual. They all are at the best level they can offer me, and I take that into account coming here”.Arnaud sees that his teammates are in great shape, but make no mistake about it, we stimulate each other to level up and perform better,” Jacopo concludes. “We all give each other a boost. When you see how many watts Arnaud produces in training, it can only push you to train even more in order to be able to support him in the race. And this mentality has been there since Le Grand Bornand”.

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