For Arnaud Démare and his lead-out train, stage 2 the Route d’Occitanie was kind of the final rehearsal before the Tour de France. It ended up with a clear victory in Auch. Perfectly positioned before the short uphill finish, the French champion powered his way to his eighth win of the season. He also brought the fourteenth to his team.

“Happy with my work”, Anthony Roux

After a lively and – too – hilly first stage, Arnaud Démare’s real chance of victory on the Route d’Occitanie was supposed to be this Friday towards Auch. The beginning of the stage certainly featured some climbs, but the peloton eventually spent a quiet day, as almost no one was interested in going on the attack. “Two riders went from the start, and despite three nice climbs in the first fifty kilometers, there was no reaction nor movement,” said Frédéric Guesdon. Adne Van Engelen (Bike Aid) and Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) were therefore able to create a gap on the bunch. “The breakaway took almost eight minutes and then we started to pull with Education First and AG2R-Citroën,” added Frédéric. “The gap then reduced quite quickly, as the course was almost entirely flat up until the last 50k”. “We wanted to do everything we could to bring a bunch sprint at the finish,” said the French champion. “With only two men in the lead, it was rather easy to manage. Seventy kilometres from the finish, there was another attack with three riders who joined the two leading men. The fight got a bit more serious but we still closed the gap bit by bit with Anthony Roux, who is coming back from an injury and who did a great job”.

Back on the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenges earlier this week, Anthony Roux spent a good part of the day at the head of the peloton. “I started riding after forty-five kilometres to control the breakaway and had to stop with twenty-five to go”, said the former French champion. “I’m happy with my work, happy to be back on the races and I actually have good feelings. It shows that we did a good job with Julien Pinot. It’s getting better day after day and it is going in the right direction. I am starting to get my habits back”. After Anthony Roux, Clément Davy took on the chase in the final behind the five fugitives. “We got to a circuit a bit hillier,” Frédéric said. “However, we never got worried about the break. We always were in control in the back. We also had seen the final and we knew that it would have been difficult for a break to stay away. We feared a bit more the attacks in the last kilometres, but the team stayed strong. The fact that there wasn’t too much racing beforehand made it a bit easier.” Angel Madrazo, the last man standing from the breakaway, was caught before entering Auch, where Groupama-FDJ took the lead in Miles Scotson’s wake.

“The train set off perfectly”, Arnaud Démare

“We had to be in a good position at the bottom of the small final hill, in order not to do unnecessary efforts,” added Frédéric. “Once in position, it would come down to the legs. The road was wide enough and there was plenty of room to overpass”. The train set off perfectly,” said Arnaud. “We knew we had to be really well positioned as we approached the last hill. Then, when I started my sprint 200 metres from the line I felt that I had really good legs and I was going to make it.” After being ideally led in the approach and the first slopes of the climb, the French champion waited for the best moment to make his effort and eventually got a clear win. “It was the last sprint before the Tour,” Frédéric recalled. “Of course, with this uphill finish, the lead-out train did not have exactly the same role as on the flat. However, if they were able to do their job in such a final, it bodes well for the Tour”. “The feelings were also much better compared to yesterday, when I suffered a lot from the heat,” added Arnaud. “It was also my last victory in the French champion’s jersey since it will be impossible to win the next two (smiles)”.

A winner for the eighth time this season, the French sprinter is now heading towards the mountains with his group. “With the Tourmalet on the menu, it’s going to be a hard day tomorrow,” he concluded. “We will remain together and work for the Tour. It will do us good”. “The goal over the last two days will be to have some fun, why not even take a breakaway, but above all to put the finishing touches before the Tour,” said Frédéric.

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