One week before the Tour of Flanders, and two days after Stefan Küng’s splendid podium in the E3 Classic, the Groupama-FDJ made another good impression on Sunday in Ghent-Wevelgem. Arnaud Démare and his teammates were in the mix the whole day, even if they missed the right group of four riders that went on to fight for victory. The Eritrean Biniam Girmay took the win while the French sprinter grabbed a frustrating tenth place on the line.

“We missed a bit of luck”, Frédéric Guesdon

A windless edition of Ghent-Wevelgem was on the menu for the riders on Sunday. In these conditions, the start was less nervous than in other years, and a breakaway of seven men was able to establish itself easily. Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Alexander Konychev (BikeExchange-Jayco), Nikias Arndt (DSM), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Ludovic Robeet (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Lars Saugstad (Uno- X) therefore got a five-minute lead and the peloton then started to control the gap. The first half of the day was rather calm, but the tension appeared approaching the last hundred kilometres and the first bergs of the race. A crash even split the peloton for a moment and the Groupama-FDJ riders were forced to make a small effort to get back in time. The first climbs did not bring action, but Olivier Le Gac and Fabian Lienhard then perfectly positioned their leaders as they approached the first ascent of Kemmelberg, located 80 kilometres from the line. Arnaud Démare was in the first positions at the top, Stefan Küng not far away, and the former French champion took advantage of the situation a few moments later to head up front, together with Olivier Le Gac. “I worked to position our leaders as well as possible at the foot of the Kemmelberg. That allowed me to be positioned as well, and to get over the top not too far away”, later said the rider from Brittany.

In a group of around twenty riders, the Groupama-FDJ duo got a thirty-second lead over the rest of the peloton at one point, but everything was back to normal sixty-eight kilometres from the finish after the gravel sectors. In the second time up the Kemmelberg, Arnaud Démare was once again able to follow the favourites, as was Kevin Geniets, while Stefan Küng and others bridged across a few minutes later. It was therefore a peloton, although very small, which tackled the third and last ascent of the Kemmelberg with 40k to go. “I was always in a good position on the Kemmelberg”, said Arnaud. “We had the perfect race until the last time up that berg. Some riders managed to go away at that point, we weren’t up there, but it came back together quickly”. After a fierce chase against a handful of favourites, Arnaud Démare and Stefan Küng managed to get back to the front with twenty-five kilometres to go. The race then became more difficult to approach. “Then, it was just attacking and attacking”, said Arnaud. “There was a moment of hesitation where three groups came together, it was a bit messy. We followed the first moves with Stefan, but not the one of four guys who managed to get away. It took a bit of time to get organized in the peloton, they quickly got a gap in the front, and everyone was tired to lead the chase”. “We missed a bit of luck”, added Frédéric. “The four riders went at the right time. It was tactical. We were part of the fight before, but today things did not go our way. We were in the mix, and apart from the last move, we were always up there”.

“We need to continue to ride up there”, Olivier Le Gac

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) and Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies) collaborated in the last twenty-five kilometres to maintain a lead of thirty seconds. With Kevin Geniets and Olivier Le Gac returning in the bunch, Groupama-FDJ was the most enterprising team in the chase. “We knew it was going to be tight, but still hoped for a final sprint”, said Frédéric. “We thought that the four leading guys were going to look at each other a little and that we were going to get a bit of help. However, when Stefan gave his last pull with one kilometre to go, we understood that it was over”. The gap with the leading group was reduced to twenty seconds under the flamme rouge, but it was not enough to get across. Biniam Girmay then conquered a historic victory while Arnaud Démare crossed the line in tenth position. “Let’s remember that we had a good race as a team”, remarked Frédéric. “It is true that we did a good job”, agreed Arnaud, “but I was looking for a result. I’m always there, but I want more”. Olivier Le Gac concluded: “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get back for the win. It’s disappointing, but we fought well. We need to continue to ride up there, and it will pay off. We have a good group, everyone rides in the front, is motivated, and it’s nice to race in these conditions. Our leaders are in good shape, it also helps to give our best”. Next appointment for the Classicmen: Dwars door Vlaanderen, on Wednesday.

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