The Groupama-FDJ cycling team experienced another difficult day on the Vuelta on Tuesday, following the second rest day. First, Rudy Molard had to leave the race after a crash in the start of the stage. Later, after some good work from his teammates, Arnaud Démare seemed to be in perfect condition for the final sprint. Unfortunately, he unclipped his pedal just a few hundred metres from the line and then saw his dreams of victory vanish.

“Rudy really was courageous”, Thierry Bricaud

After a well-deserved rest day, stage 16 of the Vuelta did not get off to a good start this Tuesday afternoon. After just a few kilometers, a massive crash happened in the peloton and notably brought Rudy Molard to the ground. Hurt, the former red jersey tried to keep going, but was eventually forced to retire after the mid-race. “It’s today’s biggest disappointment,” said Thierry Bricaud. “He still had opportunities for the end of Vuelta, through breakaways. This big crash really took its toll on him. He really was courageous afterwards, because he still rode for more than a hundred kilometres. He warned us over the radio that he was in pain, and that it did not look good. We tried to support him, but he was also told not to go beyond what was reasonable. He wanted to keep going also, but the pain was too great and reason prevailed”. Down to six men, the team nevertheless got back into business straight away. At that point, the stage was quite controlled with just five men up front: Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroën), Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Dimitri Claeys (Qhubeka NextHash) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Jetse Bole (Burgos-BH). “The day went as we imagined,” continued Thierry. “We tried not to let go a big group at the start, but the crash also disrupted a lot of things. It was still the ideal scenario, although UAE tried to make things hard in order to drop the pure sprinters”.

With less than sixty kilometres to go, the pace went up suddenly in a five kilometre-climb, but Arnaud Démare did not get trapped unlike the green jersey. “Arnaud fought well,” confirmed Thierry. “There was a little split, but almost nothing. He was attentive, like the whole team. We weren’t caught behind. We knew there was a risk of being put under pressure, but that’s normal, everyone does his own race”. Following this move, however, everything got back to normal for the last 40 kilometres. A few hills certainly appeared on the road, but the peloton stayed together for what was supposed to be a mass finish. At the front of the bunch all day, Tobias Ludvigsson then gave his final turns. “He did a very great job, like he’s been doing since the start of the Vuelta”, said Thierry. “He rode well to control the breakaway. Then, everyone did his part at some point in the final”. After Kevin Geniets’ turn in the last ten kilometres, Arnaud Démare was brought back up by Olivier Le Gac and Ramon Sinkeldam with four kilometres to go. “We knew the finish was not simple,” said Olivier. “We tried to get in front early enough to avoid possible crashes and splits”. “There were a lot of curves in the final,” added his sprinter. “We knew the bunch would be in a long line, that it would slow down, get going again etc… We absolutely wanted to avoid that”.

“We lack a bit of luck”, Arnaud Démare

The former French champion was therefore dropped by Ramon Sinkeldam more than a kilometre from the line and then fought for his position in the wheels of his competitors. He even moved up to the very top positions 600 metres from the line, but got unlucky one more time as he hit something on the road. “In the last turns, a guy from Bora slipped in front of me and I unclipped,” said Arnaud. “It took me some time to put my shoe back on and that was the end of it”. The Frenchman tried to keep pushing, but the door closed once again with 100 metres to go. The victory was nevertheless out of reach at that point, and he finally crossed the line in 16th position. “Unfortunately, the sprint did not go as we hoped,” said Thierry. “It kind of summarizes our Vuelta. We are there, we are trying, we are really motivated and eager to do our best, but it does not work out. We are disappointed for Arnaud, and especially with the fact he could not deliver a real sprint, except on day 4. It’s frustrating because he’s not where he belongs.” “We are giving our best,” said the Giro and the Tour stage winner. “This year, I’m not successful like I would like to be. I’m disappointed because it was the last chance for the sprinters, and because I put a lot of work into it. I got back on track after the Tour, and it was not easy to do so. I worked well in July, the legs are good but we lack a bit of luck. The team remains united. This morning, the plans did not change. Even though I hadn’t won, the goal was the same. And it will be again the same for the next sprints ”.

There shouldn’t be any left in this 2021 Vuelta a Espana, and the potential results will only come through breakaway. “It’s a hard Vuelta for us, but it’s not over yet,” Olivier concluded. “We will keep being aggressive in the last stages and we will keep fighting”.

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