The Groupama-FDJ cycling team went through two different feelings on Thursday, during the third day of racing of the Tour Poitou-Charentes in Nouvelle Aquitaine. First, there was frustration, with Paul Penhoët’s fourth place in the morning stage, just behind the winning breakaway. Then there was happiness, in the late afternoon, with the victory of Bruno Armirail in the 22-kilometre time trial in La Roche-Posay. The French rider then took his second victory among the professionals and is only six seconds behind the new leader Søren Wærenskjold. The last stage in Poitiers could be eventful.

“It was close”, Paul Penhoët

On Thursday, two races were planned on the Tour Poitou-Charentes in Nouvelle Aquitaine. It all started with a morning road stage. On paper, it suited the sprinters given that no proper obstacle featured on the 94-kilometer route leading to La Roche-Posay. James Fouché (Bolton Equities-Black Spoke), Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa), Davide Gabburo (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizane’) and Jean-Louis Le Ny (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) quickly took the lead but never get more than a 2’30 lead. “We thought it was going to be easy to control, but no one helped us in chase and Lada pulled all alone”, explained Paul Penhoët. “When he had to stop pulling, the peloton got a bit disorganized.” Entering the last twenty kilometres, the pack was more than a minute behind while the weather conditions became quite bad. “I knew it was going to be difficult because there was still more than a minute with ten kilometres to go, especially with the rain which generally helps breakaways,” added Paul Penhoët. The peloton also split in the last kilometres, while getting a bit closer to the fugitives approaching La Roche-Posay. The Groupama-FDJ sprinter was kept in the front of the peloton and got through the race incidents. “We once again managed to work well with Bram in the final, and I was able to take the last corner in the lead as we planned,” added Paul. “Unfortunately, I finished just behind the last three men from the break. It’s a pity because it was close, but that’s how it is, and congratulations to them because they did quite a ride”.

“Bruno couldn’t aim for anything other than winning”, David Han

In the aftermath of his victory, the 21-year-old therefore settled for fourth place but still kept the leader’s jersey before the time trial planned in the afternoon. The 22,1-kilometre race against the clock around La Roche-Posay was set to turn the overall upside down. “It was a real time trial for specialists, on good roads”, explained David Han, coach of the team and of Bruno Armirail in particular. “Basically, it was straight roads of seven kilometres. It was a little harder on the second part with a small climb, then there was a long false-flat downhill on the last part”. Starting quite early, Enzo Paleni set the third provisional time and then kept his place in the top-10 for a long time. At 4:27 p.m., Bruno Armirail showed up on the launch pad as a favourite. “For a week, I had been telling him that he couldn’t aim for anything other than winning, given his level and how the team has been committing with him in the discipline for years”, explained David. “Regarding the race plan, we got a bit in trouble with the wind. There were heavy thunderstorms in the late morning, rain in the early afternoon, and there weren’t two similar forecasts. We had two scenarios depending on the wind direction, but we saw quite early on that the ranking at the intermediate check was more or less the ranking at the finish”.

After about twelve minutes of racing, the former French champion precisely got to the intermediate check. Officially, he was just one second ahead of the former best time, but his coach’s timer showed much more. “As I wasn’t sure, I simply told him that he was first, but that it was normal given those who had started before, and that the opponent was Wærenskjold”, explained David. “He was gaining more and more time on Enzo, that was our reference.” “The feelings were rather good, and I did a good start,” said Bruno. “I struggled a bit on the top of the climb because it wasn’t downhill right after and I had to keep pushing, but I think it was hard for everyone. My coach and my sports director pushed me, and in such a situation, it is also a mental game”. After a tough moment, the French rider did get back in the rhythm and went to set the best time with a 47-second lead on the line. He then just had to wait for the finish of the Norwegian champion, second overall and his main competitor for the day. The Uno-X rider officially – but likely wrongly – was one minute behind the Groupama-FDJ rider at the intermediate check, but on the line, he just lost ten seconds.

“I would like to win the overall”, Bruno Armirail

In any case, that was enough for Bruno Armirail to bring the pressure down and get his second win at the highest level. “I won, that’s good, but I also wanted to take the lead in the general standings,” he said. “So I’m half satisfied.” “He beat Wærenskjold who was thirteenth at the World Championships, second in the Tour of Denmark’s time trial, who is a very good rider against the clock, and then there are big gaps”, added David Han. “Beyond the victory, it is a proper performance in itself”. A performance which was therefore not enough to take control overall, as the Norwegian leads for six seconds ahead of the Frenchman. “We will see what our tactics will be tomorrow”, said Bruno. “There is a nice stage left, and it is no secret that we are going to try. We know it’s often a sprint in Poitiers, but we’re going to try anyway. I already finished second overall two years ago, so I would like to win this time.” As for Paul Penhoët, he slipped to twenty-fifth place overall on Thursday after setting the 47th fastest time. He could also have an opportunity on the last stage on Friday.  

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