He was waiting for it since the start of the season, and it finally came on Wednesday on the roads of the Giro d’Italia, with style. In Messina, Arnaud Démare conquered his very first victory of the year after a lively fifth stage. Dropped halfway through the stage, the former French champion was able to rely on his teammates to get back to the bunch but also to approach the final sprint in the best possible way. He then left no chance to his competitors and stormed to his sixth stage win on the Giro, and the 85th in his career. As a great bonus, he took the cyclamen jersey for the points classification. The first goal of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team has now been fulfilled.

“Our knees were almost touching the road going in the downhill”, Clément Davy

When they opened the roadbook to the page presenting stage 5, Arnaud Démare and most of his teammates certainly experienced some flashbacks. This Wednesday on the Giro, the riders indeed took a route extremely similar to stage 4 of the 2020 edition, which was precisely won by the former French champion. The only difference was the length, since thirty kilometres were added this year to reach Messina. “We were almost on familiar ground, and we knew the course quite well”, introduced Sébastien Joly. “We also knew the scenario. We knew that some sprinters might not take part in the final sprint, given that the climb located after fifty kilometres was quite long and quite steep at the summit”. Although the start turned out to be rather classic, with a five-man breakaway controlled early on by Clément Davy and other sprinters’ teams, things fired up with about a hundred kilometres to go. The teammates of the cyclamen jersey Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) clearly increased the tempo in the only climb of the day, the Portella Mandrazzi, and some sprinters had to drop behind. Arnaud Démare himself was forced to let the bunch go about four kilometres from the top, but he was from there able to count on his teammates’ unfailing support. “He dropped, but he didn’t explode”, said Miles Scotson. “He took his pace and he trusted us. We managed to keep the gap just enough to be able to come back to the bunch”. When the downhill finally started, the Frenchman and his six remaining teammates were only a minute or so behind the main group. It was then full gas.

“The climb was hard, and we expected it,” said Arnaud. “We had to do a big chase to get back. I lost a lot of time, but the guys did a great job. We did a crazy descent. I still remember Tobias and Miles taking insane corners. We were sometimes at the limit to follow them”.I first controlled the breakaway, then paced the group in the climb, but in the downhill, I let the guys do their thing”, smiled Clément Davy. “Miles and Tobias did a mad downhill. Our knees were almost touching the road. We went extremely fast.” “For sure we were in the back on the climb, but it was nice to see everyone chasing on the descent,” added Ramon Sinkeldam. As a consequence, the gap gradually narrowed with the main peloton, and they eventually managed to come back with seventy kilometres to go, right after this long downhill. “We had mentioned the possibility that we would have to pull, first to get back to the main pack, then to get rid of the sprinters behind”, added Sébastien Joly. “So that’s what we did. Attila and Clément did a lot of work on the flat part, which was important to make our opponents crack in the back, meaning Ewan and Cavendish”. Entering the last hour of racing, the Briton and the Australian definitely let it go, but Clément Davy and Attila Valter continued to set the pace until the last ten kilometres. “They were both very strong,” underlined Arnaud. As the attackers were swallowed early on, the expected sprint could then take place in Messina, but with a few missing riders. “We just had to readjust the train’s set-up given that Jacopo did not have a good day, which can happen,” continued Sébastien. “We shifted the positions, and all the guys were up to the task”.

“For sure it’s a relief”, Arnaud Démare

In the final, everything was very smooth with Tobias, Kono, Miles and Ramon”, added Arnaud. “We had seen the final on the bus. Although it looked like a messy sprint on paper, with lots of turns, it went very smoothly for me.” In the last three kilometres, the Frenchman did not lose the wheel of his Dutch mate, as the latter was himself perfectly positioned in that of the Australian. It was then an impeccable launch. “The guys did a very big job, Ramon was right up there with 250 metres to go, I was feeling good, and I managed to be patient before starting my sprint,” said Arnaud. He eventually hit the front with 200 metres remaining and kept his position all the way. “I really kept pushing until I crossed the line,” he said. “When I cross it, I realize that I have finally won this year”. The scream that followed was one of happiness, but also of liberation. “For sure it’s a relief”, said Arnaud. “I’m super happy to win my first race of the season on the Giro, and in this way! I was feeling good since the beginning of the year, but things were not going my way. It’s cycling. Sometimes you put things in place and you don’t manage to apply them. Yet, we know what we are capable of. You must not give up, and persevere”.

582 two days after winning an identical stage, Arnaud Démare has therefore definitely launched his 2022 season in Sicily. So did his whole group. “It’s really good for everyone, because we’ve been waiting for it for a while,” said Clément, who learned of his leader’s victory when he still had two kilometres to complete. “I had tears in my eyes all the way to the line and I was just looking forward to meeting the team at the finish. We didn’t give up to finally get here. We know that we had a few setbacks at the start of the season, but we kept on going. We worked really well after the first part of the season, and it is paying off now. We were all in good shape and we all did a good job. It is pure happiness”. “It’s really a nice victory”, added Miles. “We went through a difficult time, there was a lot of pressure, and that victory feels very good. We also won because the whole team was so strong. Everyone worked hard and Arnaud finished it off. We never lost confidence; We know how strong he is. If he’s in the right place at the right time, we know he can win.” “That’s what we expected”, also told Ramon. “Sometimes, everything just has to fall into place for Arnaud to win. It’s really nice to win this stage that we already won in 2020. I also feel a bit sorry for Jacopo today, because the same thing happened to me two years ago, but the most important thing is that we won”.

“There are a lot of satisfactions”, Sébastien Joly

Sébastien Joly also gave view on this sixth career victory on the Giro for Arnaud Démare. “I really liked the attitude of Miles, who showed all his experience and that he really is in shape,” he said. “I’m very happy for Ramon as well. He managed to make a superb lead-out. There are a lot of satisfactions today. More than anything, it is the first victory of the season for the sprint group. It’s a real turning point. The start of the season was hard, we must confess. A lot of things did not go right. We all worked well, we questioned ourselves, and that allowed us to bring us even closer, as a team in general. Today, Arnaud has finished off a great collective work”. He also took advantage of his win to put on the cyclamen jersey for the points classification, which he leads by twenty-two points before joining the “continent” on Wednesday evening. “Before anything else, I want to enjoy this victory which really does me good, and which will do good to the whole group and to the team”, concluded Arnaud. “It’s still something huge to win on a Grand Tour. I have the cyclamen jersey for now, but it is still a long way to Verona”.

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