Arnaud Démare is in great form, and he showed it once again on the Tour de Wallonie on Monday. Left disappointed with a seventh place because of a too long sprint on the opening stage, the Frenchman rider took full revenge on the second stage by getting the better of Caleb Ewan, in a very short sprint this time. After Milan-Turin, this is his second victory of the season and the fourth for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team this year.
“Our riders had to work earlier today”, Frédéric Guesdon
Before some harder courses on the Tour de Wallonie on Tuesday and Wednesday, the sprinters were supposed to be in the spotlight again on Monday, after 172 kilometers leading to Wavre. Therefore, the scenario of the opening stage repeated itself, with a small breakaway of six riders right from the beginning and the sprinters’ teams in control behind them. The race leader’s teammates initially took the chase in charge in the first part of the race, preventing the breakaway from getting more than a 4-minute gap. Around halfway in the race, Groupama-FDJ also got involved in front. “After the feeding zone, we got back on a portion with small, quite winding roads and also a few small showers, explained Frédéric Guesdon. Therefore, it was better to be in front in order to avoid crashes and to avoid wasting energy unnecessarily. It made the second part of the race quite nervous and tense, and that’s why we wanted to stay in front for the last 80-90 kilometers”.
As in the first stage, the young Dutchman Lars van den Berg was the first to get to work in order to protect Arnaud Démare and his lead-out train. Gradually, the field got closer to the breakaway and even caught it before the first crossing over the line, 26 kilometers from the goal. “Once we got to the final circuit, it went pretty much as we expected,” Frédéric said. “We had to ride in front and also control the attacks, because it was still a hard circuit”. An attempt from Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar on a short cobbled climb with ten kilometers to go put some panic in the peloton, which had to chase hard. Everything finally got back to normal with five kilometres to go, but the final sprint went differently than expected. “Because the race was harder and we had to make more efforts earlier in the race, we did not have a real lead-out train today,” explained Frédéric. “It was not easy to keep three or four riders to lead out Arnaud today, but the main thing was to keep Jacopo, or even Ramon. Above all, we wanted to be in a good position before the descending part, three kilometers to go. As a consequence, our riders had to work earlier on, so did Ramon, and we then let the other teams work for the sprint”.
“I’m super happy”, Arnaud Démare
Well positioned by Jacopo Guarnieri in the last kilometre, Arnaud Démare then used a different strategy than the day before. “I decided to take Caleb Ewan’s wheel at 400 meters because Jacopo had put in a lot of effort before,” explained the winner. “I waited for him to launch the sprint, but from the moment we hit our top speed, I felt able to overpass him. That’s what happened and it’s great. It was a short sprint, of about 150 meters. It’s not what I’m used to do, but it was the right timing today”. “The level of sprinters is so high here that every detail matters,” continued Frédéric. “Yesterday, Arnaud found himself in front a little early. Today it wasn’t necessarily planned to take Caleb Ewan’s wheel, but it turned out differently and that’s what happened. These kinds of things are decided on the road, with the experience you get from race to race and from year to year. Usually, Arnaud prefers long sprints but he feels strong now and he was confident. We know that Caleb Ewan is very, very fast in the last 100 meters, and when he started his sprint, I was afraid Arnaud would not get back on him, but he really has good legs at the moment”.
Eventually, that makes it two victories in twelve days for Arnaud Démare. “I’m super happy,” he added. “It’s another win in front of a good field, and there was again a strong teamwork, even if we did not see them in the last kilometre. Today, the upstream work was important. You had to stay in front to stay to save energy and we did that well.” With a good support and great legs, Arnaud Démare wants to keep going the same way. “I know it’s going to be hard tomorrow,” he said. “The course is not easy but we will try to hang on. It might be possible to get over that climb”. His sports director told a similar speech. “Our goal of a stage win has been met, but it doesn’t mean we will stop there,” he concluded. “Tomorrow, Arnaud may have his chances but that will also depend on how the race unfolds. It will for sure be difficult with a 700-meter climb at 10% with eight kilometers to go. We will still start with the desire to try our luck with him and then we will see according to the race circumstances. We can also give our youngsters a chance, especially Kevin, who can be a contender in this kind of profile. He showed great things on the Binck Bank Tour last year, on a similar terrain. So why not”.