A few days after his fine top-10 on “La Primavera”, Arnaud Démare got to ride on Flemish roads for the first time this season on Wednesday, in the Brugge-De Panne Classic. As expected, the race ended with a hectic sprint, and the former French champion had to settle for sixth place on the finish line. He’ll next line up in Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

Although the Scheldeprijs has acquired the nickname of “world championship of sprinters”, the Classic Brugge-De Panne could also be considered as such. On completely flat terrain, without cobblestones or bergs, there was no doubt about the outcome of this WorldTour event. Therefore, quite logically, there were not many riders willing to take the lead at the start. Only Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) and Jens Reynders (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) eventually found the courage to break away in the very first minutes. While the bunch initially gave them a bit of a lead, it then maintained the gap at around four minutes for much of the day. “Hardly anything happened until the last ten kilometres,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “The breakaway didn’t get much of a margin, and the pace behind wasn’t really fast. It was just about controlling. So, it was pretty quiet, even if we had to be very careful because there were still some tricky parts on the circuit”. With two laps (or 90 kilometres) to go, the leading trio had only a two-minute lead. Within the peloton, the tension rose a little on exposed sections with fifty kilometres remaining. However, no split occurred, and the bunch tackled the last lap all together, one minute behind the breakaway. The latter was eventually caught twenty kilometres further.

“We could have done better”, Frédéric Guesdon

Entering the last twenty kilometres, the Groupama-FDJ’s lead-out train moved back to the front of the pack following Clément Davy, and Arnaud Démare and his teammates then tried to stay up there. However, the fight became even harder in the last ten kilometres. “Given that everyone was fresh, and given the large number of sprinters here, we could expect a hectic sprint”, said Frédéric. “That’s what happened.” “The race was not intense, with not much wind”, confirmed Arnaud. “We knew that the circuit and the approach to the finish were very technical. We had to be in the front positions. However, we were too far at the decisive point. We were not where we wanted to be”. “We tried, but we did not follow the right wave”, added Frédéric Guesdon. In the last two kilometres, the French sprinter then tried to make his way through in the streets of De Panne to give himself a chance to take part in the sprint. “With the small roads, the speed bumps, the traffic islands, it was difficult to move back up”, said Arnaud. “I was a bit far, and Ackermann also crashed in front of me. I had to do an effort at the flamme rouge to get back on the wheels”. “When you are not in the first wave, you are always at a disadvantage and forced to make a few small efforts that you should not make”, continued Frédéric. “It comes down to details at the end, and Arnaud surely missed this energy”.

Arnaud Démare managed to take part in the sprint, but not head-to-head with the front of the bunch and especially Tim Merlier, a winner today. He was able to come back to sixth place, but no more than that. “With the efforts I made before, I could not go faster,” he said. “We have mixed feelings because we came here for the victory after what Arnaud had shown on Sanremo”, concluded Frédéric. “We are a bit disappointed because this is the kind of race we want to win. I think we could have done better than sixth place, but it also depends on race circumstances…” The French sprinter is now expected on Sunday, in Ghent-Wevelgem.

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