Once again, Arnaud Démare did not get the opportunity to deliver a proper sprint in the 2021 edition of Paris-Nice. Blocked by a crash on the second day, the French champion did not find the right space to fight for victory in the bunch sprint on Thursday. With three stages to go, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team will now entirely focus on David Gaudu, 12th on the general classification.
“There was almost no racing before the sprint”, Thierry Bricaud
A long day awaited the riders on Thursday along the Rhône Valley in the “Race to the Sun”. 200 kilometers were to be covered between Vienne and Bollène, with a headwind for most of the course. As a result, no one was really eager to go up front. “That’s what we had figured,” explained Thierry Bricaud. “Of course, we could have had a small group in front, but we weren’t surprised that there was not. It is certainly not a scenario that we are used to witness, but the circumstances made it possible. It came after a very difficult stage yesterday, before three hard days, there was a headwind and a very high change of bunch sprint at the end. There was therefore no point in going in the breakaway today except in wasting energy for almost nothing.” The peloton then stayed together and at a very moderate speed (averaging 33km/h after three hours of racing, editor’s note) for a while. “In such circumstances, you have to save as much energy as possible but also to stay focused,” Thierry added. “Nothing happened, but on the bike the riders were a bit cold. That’s something you don’t really see on TV”.
The bodies could warm up a bit with 72 kilometers to go when a Belgian armada suddenly went on the attack. For six kilometers, a nice fight occurred with the bunch before everything got back to normal. After that, almost nothing happened until the last ten kilometers, despite two small hills in the final. “We thought it would have been more nervous”, said Thierry. “But in the end, there was almost no racing before the sprint. Maybe it would have been better for us if there had been a little more action, but we have to deal with the route”. The tension gradually built up after the second intermediate sprint, but the sprinters’ trains only appeared at the very last moment. The one of Groupama-FDJ got back in front with three kilometers to go in the wake of Ignatas Konovalovas and Miles Scotson. Ramon Sinkeldam and Jacopo Guarnieri then tried to keep Arnaud Démare in the first positions in the last two kilometers. The French champion had a decent position at the flamme rouge, but riders moving up on both sides of the road made it impossible for him to find the space in order to contest the sprint properly.
“Now, it’s everything for David”, Thierry Bricaud
“We waited too much at first, we were too far behind,” said the French Champion at the finish. “We had to move back up a few times. Then, in the last 600-700m, we didn’t find the gap with Jacopo. So I was blocked there, in the middle, where we’re all sat without having the opportunity to do our thing. When I could finally deliver my sprint, it was already over”. “It didn’t go the way they wanted,” added Thierry. “Of course we prefer to win, but that’s also part of the game. Last year, all lights were green and everything was going well. We have entered a new season, we have to find the right approach and regain confidence, which they do not yet have. We’ll just need to be a little more patient”. Initially thirteenth on the line on Thursday, Arnaud Démare eventually got 117th position following a decision by the jury of commissaires. “It doesn’t change anything,” said the sprinter. “I did not make a dangerous move, I just made a move to avoid Nils Politt. There have been dangerous moves against me or my teammates in other sprints on this Paris-Nice, which have not been sanctioned. That’s how it is… I respect the commissaires’ decision, they do the best they can”.
As for the general classification, David Gaudu still is twelfth on Thursday evening. “He was obviously a bit sore after his crash yesterday, so it was quite a good day for him to recover,” Thierry concluded. “Now, it’s everything for him. Tomorrow, we have an undulating terrain and the main leaders could finish together. However, we can also have a small fight in the end because some need to take back some time. Then, there will be a tough weekend although Sunday’s stage will probably be a little different due to health restrictions in the region of Nice. Either way, these routes suit David, and he knows them well”.