On Thursday afternoon, the smiles within the Groupama-FDJ team almost were as gorgeous as the city of Matera, where the sixth stage of the Giro was ending. That is where the French champion Arnaud Démare stormed his second stage victory in the race, doing so brilliantly and without any doubt this time. The French sprinter proved able to hang on in a tough finale, found the right space at the right time and clearly dominated the sprint. A winner for the 12th time this season, he also took the cyclamen jersey. And another opportunity awaits him tomorrow.
“We knew Arnaud was able to get over that climb”, Sébastien Joly
“This is one of the stages where we put a question mark,” said Sébastien Joly on Wednesday night, referring to stage 6 of the Giro d’Italia that would lead the riders from Castrovillari to Matera after 188 kilometers and a few climbs. There was therefore quite an uncertainty regarding the ambitions to carry towards the picturesque city of Basilicata. On Thursday morning, however, the plans were much clearer. “We had planned to stay calm until the last four kilometers, explained Sébastien. Firstly because we had already won, but also because the stage was still quite technical today, with quite a few climbs and especially a particular finale that suited more Matthews or Sagan. Therefore, we could afford to gamble a little, especially since we were down to seven after losing Benjamin Thomas yesterday. It was not up to us to take on the chase.” For a long time, nobody actually chased behind the four-men breakaway that went at the beginning of the stage. It was only halfway through the race that Peter Sagan’s Bora-hansgrohe decided to take responsibility of the pursuit. The Groupama-FDJ stayed in the background, excepting for the first intermediate sprint where Arnaud Démare won a few points by taking fifth place.
The French champion then got back to his place inside the pack as the gap with the breakaway gradually dropped. The gap was also only a minute and thirty seconds approaching the Galleria Millotta (5 km at 7%), the last listed climb of the day, which could have made real damage in other circumstances. “We had an occasional ally with the wind, we knew it, and that’s also why we were motivated for this stage, explained Sébastien. This climb was quite difficult but the headwind kind of blocked the race”. At that point, the peloton indeed hardly lost any rider. Everything had to be decided in the last ten kilometers, made of slightly ascending and descending parts, but also including a steeper climb with three kilometers to go. “We did what we wanted in the finale,” added Sébastien. “The most important thing was to position Arnaud well with the punchers four kilometers from the finish, as the road narrowed before the short downhill. Then the hardest part was “only” 600-meters long and we knew that Arnaud, in great shape, was able to get over it. Right now, he’s got this grit that enables him to do extremely well in climbs like this.”
“Today, I enjoy it a lot more”, Arnaud Démare
The French sprinter then continued the finale’s story: “It went hard on the climb, I lost a few places but I did not panic. I was really at my limits in the 9-10% parts, almost cracking. We then got back to a good speed and I could catch my breath. Simon [Guglielmi] wanted to bring me up, but I preferred to wait. I managed to recover, and then I thought ‘let’s go for the sprint’. I made the effort at the last moment, with 800 meters to go in the wheel of the Astana. They brought me up perfectly, I did not have to brake a single time and I then started the sprint. I gave everything I had left in the tank, and I knew it was good enough. I had the right power; I knew I wasn’t going to crack.” Not only didn’t he crack, he actually was in a league on his own in the home stretch. Leading by multiple meters, he was able to enjoy his incontestable victory, as it should be this time. “It’s just awesome, it’s great,” he said with a huge smile at the finish. “This morning I was really unsure whether or not it would end with a sprint, but we wanted to give it a try and the guys did a great job again. I cannot thank them enough. They were even almost too strong when they brought me up four kilometers from the finish. Today I enjoy it a lot more. This one was not easy to get but I could raise my arms clearly, and it makes me all the more happy to do it with this beautiful jersey. That makes it two already on the Giro. For now, it’s a delight!”
The euphoria also sounded in Sébastien Joly’s word at the finish. “He put three bikes between him and the second, Arnaud is doing super great right now,” he added. “No matter how much we plan, in situations like these the legs mostly do the talk. And they did for Arnaud today again. I’m also happy because Simon did a very good job in the finale. Originally, he came here to pull, but he manages to be there today in a tough finish in order to give Arnaud a hand. It’s fantastic for a youngster like him. Collectively, these two victories are different, but this one is necessarily special. The finish city obviously does its part. To win in a beautiful place and with the way he did it, it is magnificent”. On Thursday, Arnaud Démare was able to show off his French champion jersey in a worldwide coverage. He did right in doing so, as he will have to swap it tomorrow for the cyclamen jersey, which he now has for 39 points overPeter Sagan. “We will continue to have the same goal: stage wins,” Sébastien said. “Tomorrow’s stage is special, quite short, and there will probably be echelons with the side wind all day. We will act as if we do not have the jersey: that will be all for the victory”. “I said when I arrived on the Giro that the sooner I got my first victory, the sooner I would be free mentally,” said Arnaud. After a striking demonstration on Thursday, will there be another one on Friday?