Arnaud Démare’s season is definitely underway. A bit more than a week after his first victory of the year, the French sprinter did it again on Sunday, in the Brussels Cycling Classic. Opportunistic and aggressive, he initially managed to join a strong group that was established following the two times up the Muur. He also benefited from the support of Lewis Askey in the front, in particular in the last kilometre, which allowed him to contest the victory in the sprint. A winner from a small group, he therefore conquered his 93rd career win.

For the ninth time since entering the pro ranks, Arnaud Démare was at the start of the Brussels Cycling Classic on Sunday. The Frenchman even won the race back in 2017, on a route that was however less tricky than for the 2023 edition, which especially included the iconic “Kapelmuur” twice in the second half of the race. The Bosberg and the Congoberg also featured on the route, in addition to two cobbled sections in the final 30 kilometres. A lively race was expected, but first, the usual pattern took place with four-man breakaway establishing itself through Ludovic Robeet (Bingoal WB), Paul Lapeira ( AG2R Citroën), Jens Reynders (Israel-Premier Tech) and Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X). Yet, the four men only had a three-minute lead approaching the halfway point, and then tackling first Flemish climbs. “We thought there could be moves early on, in the Muur and the Bosberg”, said Yvon Madiot. “I had told the guys to be careful on the first time there, to be in the top twenty positions because we knew a group could break away. That’s what happened.” “My job was to be in the front and follow the attacks in the first climbs”, added Lewis Askey. “That’s what I did. At first, I found myself at the front in a group of four, then around twenty guys joined us, including Arnaud”. “Laurence should have been there but two riders crashed in front of him, and he couldn’t go through,” Yvon added.

“We were always in a good position as a team”, Yvon Madiot

With more than 80 kilometres to go, the race was therefore already on, and a first bunch gradually made a gap on a second, more substantial one. Thirty kilometres further on, the riders went for another Muur-Bosberg-Congoberg sequence. The breakaway was swallowed by the first group, and the distance duel continued. “It was difficult because there was not much collaboration at first, and I had to pull a lot with Intermarché-Circus-Wanty to maintain the gap, because this scenario suited us”, said Lewis. “In the second time on the climbs, I really had to hang on”. “Arnaud also asked Lewis to slow down a little because he was working too much, and we let the responsibility to others a bit after the second sequence”, explained Yvon. “The fact that the group did not take too much of a lead also suited us because I was afraid that there would be attacks all over the place if the gap increased a lot. There was always between 20 and 40-50 seconds, and so they needed to keep on pulling in the front. I had also asked those who were behind to remain careful, and we still had a big squad ready to step in if it all came back together. We were always in a good position as a team. We were pretty confident during the race. The guys never let their guard down, they covered the attack of Arnaud and Lewis. Unfortunately, there was a crash twenty kilometres from the finish which involved Paul, Enzo and Miles”.

While Enzo Paleni and Miles Scotson did not suffer any significant damage, Paul Penhoët had to go to the hospital in order to undergo some medical exams. In the meantime, the second peloton became more and more threatening and reduced the gap to just ten seconds with twenty kilometres to go. “I thought it was going to come back”, confessed Arnaud. “I was disappointed as we had made a lot of effort in front. I though “all this for nothing”, but in the end, they were probably cooked too as we gained ground again”. In the last fifteen kilometres, the victory seemed more and more probable for the front group, which kept a certain harmony until the last five kilometres. Then, a few attacks occurred but some riders sacrificed themselves for their leader. That’s also what Lewis Askey did shortly before the flamme rouge. “In the final, I wanted to lead Arnaud out but a rider from Jayco-AlUla attacked”, said the Briton. “I saw that the guys in the front were tired, and I knew that he could make it to the end if I let him go. So, I made my effort at the end and then I looked a little behind. I saw that Arnaud was in 7th-8th position and that Uno-X were in my wheel. When I stopped my effort, I knew it could be perfect for the sprint because Uno-X had to open early, and Arnaud was well positioned”. Thanks to this last pull from Lewis Askey, the Frenchman was able to go for the win in the home straight, slightly uphill. “I wanted to wait in the sprint, because it was hard,” he said. “I was in Girmay’s wheel. I was maybe a bit far when the sprint started with 200 metres to go, but I had some energy left. It was difficult to overcome the last guy, but on the line, I felt that I was first”. For a few centimetres ahead of Tobias Lund Andresen, and thanks to a good bike throw, Arnaud Démare concluded this hard day of racing in the best possible way.

“I feel that it’s on”, Arnaud Démare

Crossing the line, the former French champion was sure about his victory and immediately started a celebration in reference to his young daughter. “This is my second victory here but this edition was harder with the hills and the cobblestones”, he said. “We did a great race and I’m always very happy to raise my arms, especially since it’s only my second win this year. I was not at my level at the start of the season. I feel good now, I’m getting better and better and I feel like it’s on”.The guys followed the plan, Lewis was great in supporting him and the rest of the team was also ready to do their part in case of”, concluded Yvon. “Arnaud is back in good shape, that’s for sure, especially since it was not just a sprint today. This was hard racing, it went fast for 200 kilometres”. This is also why Lewis Askey, a key man and 21st on the line this Sunday, had a smile on his face. “It’s finally a good day for me,” he said in the evening. “Since the Classics, I struggled to find my real level, I was missing a little something. I just had a good 2-3 weeks of training, I was looking forward to being here, and I felt really good from the start. I’m really glad I had good legs today. We are super happy because Arnaud finished it off, and personally, that’s also a performance I really needed”.

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