And that makes it two for Groupama-FDJ in Valencia! One day after Miles Scotson’s solo victory in stage 1, a perfect teamwork led to Arnaud Démare’s success in stage 2 on Thursday. In what was a rainy day, each of the French champion’s teammates played his part to enable the sprinter to finish it off in style in Alicante. Involved in the perfect lead-out train in the last kilometre, Miles Scotson also retained the yellow jersey ahead of the queen stage.
“Alexandre and Antoine did most of the work”, Thierry Bricaud
Unlike this second stage, the opening stage of the Tour de Valence was not a primary goal coming into the Spanish race. Still, it had already enabled Groupama-FDJ to open its account thanks to Miles Scotson’s unexpected victory on Wednesday. Today in Alicante, the Australian rider then logically showed up with the yellow jersey on his shoulders starting stage 2. However, he quickly had to cover it with a rain jacket given the poor weather in the region. With the GC leader in its ranks, but also featuring one of the stage favourites, namely Arnaud Démare, the team knew that it would have to take responsibility of the race. “We first told the guys to make sure the breakaway wasn’t too big and didn’t include threatening riders,” Thierry recalled. “Then we had to control. Antoine [Raugel] and Alexandre [Balmer] did that perfectly for almost 160k. In fact, they did most of the day’s work as the “sprinters” group didn’t have to make any effort before the final”. Usually Conti members, the two young men first let five riders gain a maximum lead of four minutes before controlling them about two minutes behind. “Our mission was clear from the start,” Antoine said. “We immediately took the reins with Alexandre and we took turns between us before other teams came to help. Then I tried to push as long as possible, and as hard as possible.”
Coming into the last 30k of the stage, the breakaway however started to hold back the bunch and the gap would not reduce anymore. “Luckily there was Stefan in the final, and he really helped close the gap,” smiled Antoine. The Swiss champion started to pull almost fifteen kilometers from the line and it had an impact straight away. “We knew we wouldn’t get much support just because Arnaud and his train were the ones to beat,” explained Thierry. “At the end, Stefan went to pull because it was getting complicated. We didn’t want to take any risks. We really wanted to bring Arnaud for a sprint. We did not want to gamble. Stefan pulled for about ten kilometers and that will not affect him for tomorrow”. Thanks to the Swiss rider’s work, in particular, the gap dropped to just ten seconds with five kilometres to go. The breakaway was caught soon after, and the Swiss champion again took the lead shortly before the flamme rouge to get the Arnaud Démare’s lead-out train started. “I was at the back of the bunch at that point but I saw that they were still four ahead of Arnaud in the last kilometre,” Antoine said. “It was beautiful to see and I felt something good was coming”.
“A textbook sprint!”, Thierry Bricaud
Groupama-FDJ indeed never left control from that point on. The race leader Miles Scotson and Ramon Sinkeldam came after Stefan Küng, and Jacopo Guarnieri launched the French champion with 150 meters to go. “We had done a recon of the final during the training camp in January, but also the day before the race,” said Thierry. “It was a textbook sprint! This is exactly what we wanted to do this morning. To make it happen is different… Having four guys in front of Arnaud for the last kilometre was perfect. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but that’s what we hoped for today. When it goes like that, there’s not much to say.” “I’m really happy to win today,” said the French champion, whose powerful sprint was enough to hold back his rivals. “I knew that my biggest opponent would be Caleb Ewan but the team did a great job. In the end, we took the lead like we had to. We knew it was going to be quite tense on wet roads. It was a difficult final, it was slippery but luckily we did not crash. It was a tough day from a weather point of view. We rode with 6 degrees and constant rain. We even sprinted in the jackets and neoprene gloves, just to tell! But it ended well for us”.
Winning his second race of the year and the fifth for the team, Arnaud Démare also took his first victory ever on Spanish soil. “It’s a great day with this second victory, and I’m really that I was able to contribute to it,” added Antoine Raugel. The young man will undoubtedly have some work to do tomorrow, defending the yellow jersey that Miles Scotson obviously kept on Thursday. “For the moment, everything is going well”, concluded Thierry Bricaud. “Tomorrow is the queen stage and it should partly decide the overall. We don’t have the best cards, but it’s up to the other teams to try and move. As far as we’re concerned, we will hang on and see how the situation is tomorrow night. Everything is possible and we won’t set ourselves boundaries”. Before the mountaintop finish at the Alto de Reina (7.5km at 5%), Miles Scotson has got half a minute lead ahead of 30-or-so riders. “Today, we are very happy with Arnaud’s victory, because that was the main goal coming into that race,” said the Australian. “It was a great performance from all the guys, a real team effort. I am personally happy to keep the yellow jersey, but the real test will be tomorrow”.