Everything was going just well until the home stretch of the Classic Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday. Then, Arnaud Démare accidentally unclipped his pedal as he was just launching his final sprint. The French champion could not therefore fight for victory, which proved quite frustrating after his teammates put on a good work throughout the day. The French sprinter will now try to take revenge on Sunday, in Ghent-Wevelgem.

“Everything was looking good”, Yvon Madiot

Last autumn, the Classic Brugge-De Panne offered quite a lively and open race, especially due to echelons all day long. Only forty-nine riders actually completed the 2020 edition. It did not seem this scenario would repeat itself in 2021 considering the good weather conditions this Wednesday. And indeed, a typical scenario established itself quite early on. Six men broke away, namely Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-Citroen), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal), Barnabas Peak (Team BikeExchange), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Erik Resell (Uno-X) and Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabù), while the bunch mainly focused on controlling them. Supporting the French champion Arnaud Démare, Alexys Brunel was actually among the first ones to pull in the peloton. “There was hardly any wind today,” said Yvon, “and it was mostly a headwind on the flat part in the beginning of the race, where it split last year. There were not the best conditions to create echelons this time.” However, once on the final circuit, the peloton momentarily split on the exposed section of De Moeren. “They still tried, but the wind was not strong enough,” told Yvon. “It was the only tense part on the circuit, and our guys were very careful, especially Arnaud. He was very focused, he warned his teammates every time and motivated them”.

Due to the peloton’s sudden acceleration, the day’s breakaway was caught with more than 70 kilometers to go. Then, some riders gave it a go but it did not prove a danger for the sprinters’ teams. Groupama-FDJ constantly remained at the front of the pack, and Jake Stewart was able to get back alongside his teammates after a minor crash with fifty kilometers to go. In the final lap around De Panne, the peloton stretched but did not split in the De Moeren’s section. It was therefore quite complete while heading to the finish line. Olivier Le Gac, Jake Stewart and Ramon Sinkeldam led out the train in the last five kilometers then Jacopo Guarnieri brought back the French champion up front shortly after the flamme rouge. “Everything was looking good”, said Yvon. “He was in a good position on the last corner, in Ackermann’s wheel. It’s a good spot to sprint from. This morning, he clearly told us: “even if we don’t do the perfect sprint, I want to sprint in good conditions”. This is what was about to happen before this stroke of bad luck.”

“Right now, we are not lucky”, Arnaud Démare

Three hundreds meters from the line, as he was just starting to launch his sprint, Arnaud Démare was indeed stopped dead, actually taking off his right foot. “Someone probably touched my wheel in the final because the quick release on my rear wheel was open,” said Arnaud. “My wheel was quite loose but I didn’t realize it. As I get back into Ackermann’s wheel, I stand on the pedals, and I suffer a big chain drop that makes me lose my balance. I unclip and I’m actually not far from crashing. On the one hand, I was lucky, but on the other hand, I couldn’t do my sprint while I was in a good position. It’s frustrating”. The French sprinter then saw Sam Bennett collecting the victory without being able to fight for it. “It’s a big disappointment for the whole group,” Yvon continued. “It’s a shame not to get a result because we did a good job all day long, and Arnaud himself was really committed”. “In cycling, you also need to be lucky, and right now we are not,” said Arnaud. “It’s a bit long, but you need to keep going. Morale remains good, it’s also part of the sport”.

Although disappointed with the day’s outcome, he is now fully focused on Gand-Wevelgem this weekend. “Nevertheless, I think he still gained some confidence today”, concluded Yvon. “He feels he’s got good legs. He’s not worried. He would have been able to sprint for the win today. I am convinced that he has both the condition and the mindset to win at a very high level. We just need for the bad luck to leave him alone… “

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