The days go by, and Laurence Pithie continues to impress. After his third place in the opening stage of Paris-Nice, the young New Zealander did even better on Monday despite a less tiring race. Thanks to a great positioning and a strong sprint, the winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race took second place in Montargis behind Arvid De Kleijn. Even better, and to his great surprise, he actually rose to first place in the general classification of “the Race to the Sun”. He will therefore wear the famous yellow jersey on the team time trial on Tuesday. A true confirmation of an amazing start to the season.

If the pure sprinters wanted to get something out of Paris-Nice, it was probably the day or never on Monday. Between Thoiry and Montargis, no difficulty stood on the riders’ route, which was 177 kilometres long. This also led to a quite strange racing scenario, with no real breakaway. Mathieu Burgaudeau and Jonas Rutsch first fought for the KOM points, Pascal Eenkhoorn attempted a solo escape without much conviction, and the peloton rode at an easy pace for a good part of the day. “On paper, the stage suited us much less than yesterday, because we know that Laurence likes to sprint when the stage is tough beforehand,” explained Benoît Vaugrenard. “Due to the weather conditions, it wasn’t so today. The weather was nice and there was a 3/4 front wind all day. There wasn’t any proper racing, so a lot of riders were still fresh in the final.” More than a hundred kilometres from the finish, the peloton already caught the fugitives, and then covered the last two hours of the race all together, without any notable event. After a slight moment of agitation during the intermediate sprint with 45 kilometres to go, the tension remained reasonable before the last ten kilometers, which were obviously much more nervous.

“Laurence blows us away race after race”, Benoît Vaugrenard

The long-awaited sprint began to set up, and the fight for position turned out to be quite harsh. “The goal was obviously to sprint with Laurence, and we had a plan,” explained Benoît. “There was a long straight as we approached the finish, and we knew we had to find the right timing and be placed when we needed to. With the headwind, it could be a lottery.”It was a pretty hectic final few kilometres,” Laurence Pithie also testified. “You had all the trains on this wide road. It was hard to pick which side to go on to be honest. I didn’t have so many teammates, but they really all found me at the right time, one by one, to move me up. When I came back to the left, I managed to find Sven-Erik and he did a great job keeping me in the front at a very crucial moment. He was able to put me in a good position, and once we came through that corner with 1800 metres to go, I was in good position behind the Tudor train. From there it was just about staying calm and waiting for the right moment.” Clear-minded and skilful, the Kiwi perfectly made his way through the forefront like the day before. “He comes from the track, he has a lot of background for positioning,” added Benoît. “We feel it and we see it. Already yesterday, he made no mistakes. Even today, he makes no mistakes. He knows how to get the timing right.”

In the last kilometre, the door closed for a moment for the young New Zealander, but he once again managed to find the opening. “When Visma-Lease a Bike came back up, I had to brake a little, but I still managed to maintain most of my speed,” said Laurence. Then positioned in the wheel of Arvid De Kleijn, the young rider from Groupama-FDJ was able to make his sprint in the final straight when the Dutchman launched. “He was super fast, and I couldn’t really come out of his wheel,” he confessed. “Then, it was just about keeping the others behind me.” Which he did pretty well to claim a superb second place, his second podium in two days. “Of course, you’re always fighting for the win, and it’s a bit disappointing to come second, but De Kleijn was very fast today, and he had a super great lead-out, so it was hard to beat him”, he added. “De Kleijn isn’t just anybody,” said Benoît. “Laurence made no mistake. We thought it was going to be harder for him today, knowing that there is a big field of sprinters, but he still managed to deliver a nice sprint. He blows us away race after race.” What’s more, the New Zealander didn’t actually lose everything on Monday.

“This season just keeps getting better”, Laurence Pithie

After a few confusing moments at the finish, he was called to the official podium to put on… the yellow jersey! “It wasn’t clear for a while, actually,” he smiled. “I was trying to do the math in my head on the way back, but I wasn’t sure who got the bonus seconds during the stage.” At the end of the day, Mads Pedersen, Olav Kooij and himself all actually tallied ten bonus seconds. “We didn’t pay attention to it at all at first, because we were focused on the sprint and the second place, then we started to calculate the seconds in the car,” Benoît said. “The two who were in front of him yesterday were not there today, and so it came down to the addition of places.” This is how, thanks to his two consecutive podiums, the New Zealander put on the yellow jersey for Paris-Nice. “The joy of wearing the jersey makes up a bit for the disappointment of second place,” confessed Benoît. “It’s his first WorldTour stage race in Europe, it’s important for him, and for us.” “I definitely wasn’t expecting that this morning,” Laurence said. “I’m super happy to be wearing the yellow jersey at such a prestigious race. This season just keeps getting better. I definitely surprise myself. It’s really high level here, and I take each stage as a new experience. It’s great learning for the future.”

A learning made of yellow, which he will try to enjoy on Tuesday over the twenty-seven kilometers of the decisive team time trial. “It will be a really hard day, but we’ll put everything on the line, and we’ll try to keep the jersey and do a good time for David,” he said. “He will be wearing yellow tomorrow, and these are always important moments in a rider’s career,” Benoît concluded. “We trained for this time trial. We certainly don’t have Stefan Küng as last year, but we know that in a team time trial you need a very united team. It’s difficult to say what position we can achieve, but we hope that everyone will have a good day. With the motivation boost of Laurence’s yellow jersey, we are able to achieve a very good time.” Like last year, the time will be taken on the first rider to cross the line.

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