He did it again. A year after his first victory on Paris-Tours, achieved after a superb ride, Arnaud Démare again conquered the French Classic this Sunday to complete his season in the most beautiful way. At the end of the Avenue de Grammont, and following a great team race, the former French champion outsprinted a small bunch to get his seventh win of the season. Doing so, he also took the Groupama-FDJ cycling team’s tally to nineteen victories, one week before the official end of the season on the Chrono des Nations.
While part of the professional bunch ended its season on Saturday on the shores of Lake Como, another part was preparing to do the same this Sunday through the vineyard tracks of Touraine. As in recent years, the 116th edition of Paris-Tours included gravel sectors in addition to the usual climbs. It’s on a similar course that Arnaud Démare brilliantly took the win in 2021, after an offensive race. In good form, the French sprinter then took the start as defending champion and with all the eyes staring at him. But also with a great squad. “We knew we had a good chance of winning and a strong team,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “We also had the outgoing winner who was super motivated”. A five-man breakaway including Jonas Abrahamsen (UnoX), Romain Cardis (Auber-St Michel 93), Clément Carisey (GO Sport-Roubaix Lille Métropole), Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hôtels-KTM) and Maël Guégan (UC Nantes Atlantiques) first took the lead on Sunday while the bunch let the gap get to six minutes shortly after the halfway point. “The race was really quiet at the start”, said Stefan Küng. “There was not much wind and not too many dangers. There were still a few crashes that we had to avoid”. Unfortunately, Lewis Askey was involved in one of them seventy kilometres from the finish, just before entering the first vineyard sector. The race then opened up and Olivier Le Gac got in the mix by joining a chasing group. “My role was to be attentive from the first sectors”, indicated the Breton. “We know that there is often a group that goes out quite early and goes far in this race. We wanted to keep Stefan and Arnaud for the final”.
“It proved very useful to have Olivier up front”, Frédéric Guesdon
Over the kilometres, Olivier Le Gac got closer to the morning breakaway with Clément Russo, Alex Kirsch, Kim Heiduk and Sam Bennett. At the back, his teammates tried to cover him as best they could. “We wanted to be present from the start so as not to be caught behind and have to pull”, explained Stefan. “As a team, we did a great race. With Jake and Kevin, we followed the moves, which allowed Arnaud to save his energy”. “We also entered the chasing groups to get a head start, because we know that a lot can happen on these roads”, confirmed Frédéric Guesdon. The peloton remained for a long time just a minute away from Olivier Le Gac’s group, which itself got back slowly to the leading group. “I already had cramps forty kilometres from the finish, so I did less work than the other riders in the breakaway”, explained Olivier. “I didn’t want to go flat out and help the others go far, and then be dropped in the end. Eventually, in the last climb, I still had a bit of energy to follow the attacks”. In this final hill, the Frenchman went away with Heiduk and Kirsch, and bridged across to Abrahamsen, the last rider from the initial break, just seven kilometres from the finish. Behind them, the bunch still included some forty riders. “It really hurt on the sectors, but the pace eased off every time we got back on the road”, explained Arnaud. “I think that’s because the right teams were in the breakaway. Everyone was happy with the situation. We didn’t really know what to do either. We didn’t want to pull behind Olivier, we wanted to trust him”.
In the lead, the Breton also found himself in a hard position, and with an advantage of barely fifteen seconds with five kilometres to go. “I was hoping to fight for the win, I would have liked to get a nice result”, he said. “I had confidence in my sprint, but having Arnaud behind, I wasn’t sure about what to do. I didn’t completely believe in my chances. I told myself that I was going to gamble a bit with my rivals in the break to keep a little something for the sprint”. However, the peloton really took on the chase in the closing kilometres through teams that still had the numbers. “The other teams had to bring back Olivier”, noted Stefan. “It allowed us to save our energy a little, especially since I was the last rider with Arnaud”. “In these final kilometres, it proved very useful to have Olivier up front”, underlined Frédéric. In the end, the bunch got the best of the leading quartet, which was caught about 1,500 meters from the line. A reduced bunch sprint was therefore looming on the long Avenue de Grammont. “A sprint after 200 kilometres of an attrition race is not the same thing as a sprint after a quiet race”, claimed Stefan. “I trusted Arnaud, and he trusted me. When Trek-Segafredo did not continue their effort after the last corner (750m), I had to start mine and I told myself that I had to hold on until the last 200 meters”. “I know that it is better to be right in front and not touch the brakes than to be behind and try to make your way”, added the Frenchman. “I trusted Stefan. I know that he is very resistant and that he could do a long sprint. I just let a small gap behind his wheel in case some riders would launch from afar”.
“If I had to win one race, it had to be this one”, Arnaud Démare
When the sprint really opened, about 250 meters from the line, the former French champion immediately jumped on the wheels, quickly took the lead, and maintained his first position until the finish line. He then took a convincing victory ahead of Sam Bennett and was able to scream out his joy. “I did a great sprint to take the win”, commented Arnaud with a broad smile. “The home straight felt so long to me. I was really afraid to get caught after my recent seven second places. I gave everything until the very end, and I managed to win. If I had to win one race, it had to be this one. I’m really happy to finish with a victory. It’s a completely different scenario than last year and it’s not at all what I expected this morning. It also shows that I can be up there in several ways. We were expected, and we had a superb team race. It closes the season perfectly. That’s great“. “We take the start of every race to win, but it’s always nice to win the last one”, confirmed Frédéric. “It’s Arnaud’s victory, but it’s above all a team victory. It was our tactic today. Arnaud was not the only protected rider, everyone had their chance, we trusted the whole team”. Olivier Le Gac was an example of this. “I’m surely a bit disappointed from a personal point of view, but Nono won and that’s what we came for, so that’s the most important thing,” added the Breton. “Arnaud brilliantly finished it off”, concluded his lead-out man for the day, Stefan Küng. “It’s great to win the last road race. We had an extraordinary campaign in one-day races, we were always up there. We have a young team and those of the Conti are coming! I’m already looking forward to doing the Classics with them next year.” The Swiss time trialist will conclude his season next Sunday on the Chrono des Nations and try to bring the twentieth win of the year to Groupama-FDJ.