For several months, Paul Penhoët had been looking to get this first win at the highest level. On Saturday, the young sprinter from Groupama-FDJ finally ticked that box and took a weight off his mind. In a tough finish on the Tour du Finistère, the former rider of “La Conti” first managed to hold on on the last climb and then delivered a powerful sprint in the final 200 meters. He not only scored his first success among the big boys, but also brought the team’s third – long-awaited – victory this season. Romain Grégoire grabbed tenth on the day while Paul Penhoët climbed to second place in the individual ranking of the Coupe de France FDJ.
Less than a week after the Grand Prix du Morbihan and the Tro Bro Leon, the Groupama-FDJ team returned to Brittany this weekend, with the Tour du Finistère this Saturday before the Boucles de l’Aulne planned on Sunday. Nearly 200 kilometres made up the first act of this weekend, between Saint-Évarzec and Quimper, and Benoît Vaugrenard was in charge of a very young squad. Ronan Augé and Eddy Le Huitouze, coming from “La Conti”, joined five men who were also members of the development team in 2022. That said, Paul Penhoët, Romain Grégoire, Laurence Pithie, Lorenzo Germani and Samuel Watson were pretty ambitious all the same. “We really don’t have any complexes,” confided the group’s sprinter. “We ride like in Class-2 races last year, we don’t look at the level of the race, and that’s how it works best. We are not afraid, and that works in our favor”. The day’s sole objective was therefore victory, and a precise plan had been decided in that prospect, while the day’s breakaway included Calum Johnston (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Iker Ballarin Manso (Euskaltek-Euskadi), Carlos Garcia Pierna (Equipo Kern Pharma), Matisse Julien (Ecoflo Chronos) and Axel Narbonne Zuccarelli (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur). “We know the Tour du Finistère often comes down to the final circuit”, explained Benoît. “Ronan Augé did an excellent job of controlling the breakaway, then we arrived in the Locronan climb, which is quite difficult, and where Ronan started to attack. We wanted to shake up the race, tire the sprinters. We know that Paul prefers it when races are a bit harder”.
“It gives me confidence going forward”, Paul Penhoët
The offensives began about sixty kilometres from the finish, and then followed one another. None proved sharp enough, however, and the bunch remained quite compact for a while. With less than thirty kilometres to go, Laurence Pithie finally managed to open a gap together with Luca Van Boven (Bingoal-WB) and Antoine Raugel (AG2R Citroën). “It was planned for Laurence to move on the circuit, which he did, and it was very good”, added Benoît. “It allowed us to recover a bit in the back”. The Kiwi, winner of Cholet-Pays de Loire, never benefited from a significant lead, but was able to carry out his attack up to ten kilometres from the finish. Once everything came back together, it became clear that everything would be decided in the last kilometre uphill in Quimper. “I told them that we shouldn’t have any regrets about being badly positioned, because it’s a fairly short climb, where you can quickly lose a few places due to the road furniture”, added Benoît. “We had to be in the first 6-7 at the bottom, and I think the guys were confident enough”. “Everyone rode well, especially Lorenzo to catch the two guys in the final”, said Paul. “Then, Romain tried to go all out on the climb. Unfortunately, the level was very homogeneous, and he did not manage to make a gap. Then, there was still my card, in the sprint”.
Despite the fast pace on the last ramps, Paul Penhoët managed to take the last corner in sixth position, just before entering the final straight. “It’s a puncher-sprinter climb, still quite short”, explained the young man. “Last week, I was lacking confidence in the Grand Prix du Morbihan. If I had had a bit more on the last hill, I surely could have done better, and I came here with the will to do well and win. On the last lap, Benoit told us on the radio “confidence, confidence, confidence” and that’s really the word I needed to hear”. This is also why he launched his sprint 150 metres from the line. And once he took the lead, he never let it go. At the end, he snatched his first victory among the big boys with a nice margin. “I managed to pull it off, and it’s great for the team”, he said at the finish. “It was really a team effort, like in all the Coupe de France’s rounds since the start of the year. We get along really well with this group of young guys. It’s just amazing. The atmosphere at dinner, in the race and all day is great, and that’s how it works best. For me personally, it’s great, it gives me confidence going forward, especially for the 4 Jours de Dunkerque”.
“It highlights the work of La Conti”, Benoît Vaugrenard
Relieved by his first victory at this level, Paul Penhoët also gave a nice boost to the team on Saturday. “This victory is good for the team after scoring a lot of second places recently”, added Benoit. “We wanted it to change the dynamic, and it’s done. Paul was also there or there about this year. He did a few results, and he was able to seize the opportunity that arose today. Congratulations to him. This victory will do him the greatest good, it will really give him confidence. It’s also really satisfying to win with a super young team, of which Samuel was the eldest at 21 years old. It also highlights the work of La Conti, because five have just left it and two are currently there. It is a true symbol for everything the team has done for the development of young riders for years. We also expected the youngsters from La Conti to help us in the French Cup, which was kind of their objective. We wanted them to be protagonists. We have won two rounds so far, with Laurence and Paul. They are where we expected them to be”.