Finally. In the third sprint of the Tour de France on Thursday, Arnaud Démare was finally able to join the fight for the stage victory. It was not all easy, however, as his teammates had to take their responsibilities early on to stop a very dangerous breakaway. The former French champion then lost his lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri with three kilometres to go. Despite imperfect circumstances, Démare managed to take 4th on the day, but will obviously aim much higher after the Alps.

“It won’t happen to them again”, Thierry Bricaud

Between Tours and Châteauroux, over 160 kilometers, stage 6 of the Tour de France could have known a smooth and clear scenario, with just a massive anticipated sprint at the end. Some riders, and some teams, clearly had other ideas. After less than five kilometres, eight powerful riders indeed opened a gap. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën) or even Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin- Fenix), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert) and Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) formed a four-star breakaway and the Groupama-FDJ was left in a very sensitive position. “The start went wrong for us,” said Thierry Bricaud. “We were not careful enough, and once the breakaway was gone, we were almost the only sprinter’s team with no guy up front. We knew it could happen but we lacked focus. The guys did not expect this kind of start. There were some great riders in the front and we didn’t think for long. We immediately saw it, and told the riders. However, by the time the guys could get in front and get into place, the gap had already increased to 40-50 seconds because the guys in the lead immediately pushed hard. We quickly had to adjust, otherwise we could not give a sprint to Arnaud. Therefore, we took on our responsibilities and it lasted thirty kilometers… Even if we made a small mistake at the start of the race, we must also say that the guys managed to set things right then, in particular Bruno, Stefan and Val. That’s all part of the game, but it won’t happen to them again.”

During the first thirty kilometers, the average pace recorded was 53km/h. The gap, which increased up to one minute, eventually dropped below twenty seconds as the riders passed Amboise. A few minutes later, and thanks to the collaboration of two other teams, it was almost all back together with just Greg Van Avermaet going solo in the lead. He later got the support of Roger Kluge (Lotto-Soudal) but the situation was from then on under control. Arnaud Démare and his teammates then let other teams do the chase all day, then got back in the first part of the bunch entering the last hour of racing, behind Bruno Armirail and Valentin Madouas. A little later, approaching Châteauroux, Stefan Küng took over in order to put the train on the right track. “The energy we spent at the start of the race may have been lacking in the final, but the approach was still quite clear”, said Thierry. “We knew we had to come at the last moment in the sprint anyway. However, the key moment is that we lost Jacopo in the last three kilometers. From then on, it was not the same approach at all.” “You also need luck in cycling, and we don’t have it yet,” sighed Arnaud Démare. “It came from the right in the final, we hit each other with Jacopo and he fell down. We had to reorganize afterwards. For 500 meters, I asked myself: “what are we going to do?”. Miles was still there, he looked back, cheered me on and we got back into the fight. It was a weird setup but we got back on track well and Miles did a good job.”

“I have the legs to win”, Arnaud Démare

The Australian rider held on to the last 600 meters and the former French champion then tried to find his way through to the line. However, being ten metres or so behind Mark Cavendish when launching the sprint, he was unable to bridge that much of a gap. “It’s a shame that we couldn’t catch the Alpecin train, because in terms of speed, I was not too bad”, said Arnaud. “I could have gone for more. I felt I was fast and there was room to do better”. On the line, after having overtaken Peter Sagan and Cees Bol, the Frenchman had to settle for fourth “The frustrating part is seeing that there was the possibility to do a lot better,” said Thierry. “Everything has to be perfect at the right time. We must not forget that he was on the ground three days ago. He needed to gain confidence again and that is what happened today. We know that he’s back, and he knows it too.” “I have the legs to win”, claimed Arnaud. “I couldn’t join the first sprint, I was a little confused on the second one, but it’s okay now, I believe I can do it. We’ll just have to wait a week. If I’m in the right position for the next one, I surely can do something…” Before the next potential massive finish, some climbs will now appear on the riders’ route. It will start on Friday towards Le Creusot. “It won’t be an easy day at all,” warns Thierry. “First of all, there are 250k, which is no small feat. Then, the second part is very difficult and the riders will always be fighting on small roads. Whether there is a breakaway or not, there can be some movement for the overall. We will have to stay focused”.

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