“If our rivals give us a hard time but we can resist, the victory will be all the better.” Frédéric Guesdon’s words after the third stage of the Tour de Wallonie make even more sense on Wednesday evening. Starting the last racing day as the overall leader, Arnaud Démare had a lot to do on yet another very tough course. But with the remarkable help of his teammates, the French sprinter not only managed to keep the first place overall, and therefore to win the race, but also to take a superb bonus with the stage victory. Arnaud Démare now records four victories since the season restart, but more than ever, the teamwork will also be remembered.

“The mission will be difficult” said Arnaud Démare after taking the yellow jersey on the Tour de Wallonie on Tuesday. The start of stage 4 proved to be difficult anyway, as two climbs and two intermediate sprints were listed in the first fifty kilometers. As a consequence, there was a fight from the start and some GC contenders such as Greg van Avermaet or Jhonatan Narvaez took the opportunity to grab a few seconds. “It was a strong start”, said Arnaud. “I then thought it was going to be a very complicated day, but it then calmed down a bit”. After the first quarter of the race, a breakaway of seven riders was allowed to go and CCC and AG2R-La Mondiale took control in the bunch while Groupama-FDJ would just remain careful. “We wanted to gamble everything on the final since the quite hilly course did not really suit my riders”, explained Frédéric Guesdon. “We benefited a little from the work of the other teams but these are also the race’s circumstances. We are not alone in the peloton”.

“The squad is really in great shape”, Frédéric Guesdon

Including some strong guys such as Zdenek Stybar, the breakaway did not get more than a 3-minute gap on the bunch, which then gradually took some time back in the second part of the stage. At the first time over the Côte de Beffe (1.6km at 8.7%), the breakaway was only a minute ahead as the selection initiated in the bunch. In this first lap, Arnaud Démare and most of his teammates were able to recon ​​the final which was going to decide the race’s outcome. The main peloton then rode to quite a high pace towards the second and final time of the Côte de Beffe, located 10 kilometers from the finish. Like the day before, the Groupama-FDJ team managed positioning perfectly, bringing Arnaud Démare up in front at the bottom of the last climb. In the tougher slopes, the yellow jersey logically dropped back a little, but he never cracked and was still surrounded by Lars van den Berg and Ignatas Konovalovas, while Kevin Geniets would go with the stronger ones a hundred meters ahead.

With 8 kilometers to go, Narvaez went solo in the lead while his rivals looked at each other, allowing several guys to return from the back. Among them, Arnaud Démare and his two teammates. Groupama-FDJ then led a strong chase. “The squad is really in great shape,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “You had to be strong not to be too far from the best at the top of the climb, and more so to be able to get back on the breakaway. The strategy that we set up today was followed and worked out, so all the better”. “Like yesterday, I still had three teammates with me in a group of 30-40 riders,” continued Arnaud. “It was great. I really could count on them. They chased really hard to catch the leading man in the last kilometer.” After the final turns from Lars van den Berg and Kevin Geniets, the Frenchman prepared for a hard sprint in these last hundred meters averaging 4-5%. “I was worn out, he said. I wasn’t really thinking of winning. I was really thinking not to take a split on Van Avermaet, who was right behind me. That’s why I started the sprint”. Initially overtook by Philippe Gilbert on his left, the Milan-Turin winner got the better of the former world champion in the last 50 meters. “To make a sprint like this one, you have to be in a very good condition”, explained Frédéric Guesdon.

“With the legs I have right now, I’m not setting myself any limits”, Arnaud Démare

If the general classification success was his primary goal, Arnaud Démare eventually took a nice bonus with the stage. “It’s amazing,” he said at the finish. “With the legs I have right now, I’m not setting myself any limits. Even more with the very strong team I have around me. I wouldn’t have thought I could win the overall at the start of the week given the course, but the team is very strong. After winning the second stage, we didn’t refrain ourselves from anything. With the time bonuses, we also had a little advantage today. The course was also made for me these last two days with a few kilometers after the climbs to try to come back”. With this Tour de Wallonie 2020, Arnaud Démare got the sixth GC of his career. “When Arnaud is at his best, he is capable of doing very, very great things”, concluded Frédéric Guesdon. For me it’s not much of a surprise. He’s been very strong this week, but the team has been just as strong. It also must be said that usually, when you have a strong leader, the others go along…” With four successes since the season restart, Arnaud Démare might be the big favourite for the French championship on Sunday. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot since they changed the course, which is less difficult than expected,” concluded the former French Champion. “With my form and considering the courses I’m able to get over right now, I really believe in my chances”.

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