Everybody, including himself, was expecting him. On Tuesday, Romain Grégoire lived up to all expectations. In the opening stage of the Tour du Limousin, the young Frenchman already made an impression as he won in Bénévent L’Abbaye after a solo ride of about fifteen kilometers. After breaking away in the last climb, the 20-year-old puncher managed to stay away and also benefited from Michael Storer’s (3rd) presence in the chasing group. As a consequence, he also took the yellow jersey, which he will try to defend from Wednesday to Trélissac.

Romain Grégoire is not a man who hides his ambitions. Named among the favorites of the Tour du Limousin, the young rider from Groupama-FDJ fully took on his status on Tuesday morning in Rilhac-Rancon, the start city of the event’s first stage. Due to the hilly finish, including two climbs in the last thirty kilometres then a slight uphill road towards the line, the Frenchman clearly aimed for victory. His teammates therefore fully backed him and took their responsibilities once the day’s breakaway was formed, after about thirty kilometres. Tom Maiguenaud (Van Rysel-Roubaix Lille Métropole), Samuele Zoccarato (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizane’), Oliver Mattheis (Bike Aid), Andrea Pietrobon (Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team) and Jean-Louis Le Ny (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) got a maximum gap of four minutes before Matthieu Ladagnous took the lead, set the pace and reduced the gap by half. Eighty-three kilometres from the end, the riders crossed the finish line for the first time, then headed towards the hilly final. Thanks to Matthieu Ladagnous, Groupama-FDJ remained in the first positions at all times, thus avoiding the few crashes that occurred, then really took control before the decisive sequence of the côte des Beiges ( 2.5 km at 5.5%) and the côte Saint-Goussaud (5 km at 5%). “One of the plans was to follow the attacks, the other was to make it hard and be protagonists ourselves”, explained Philippe. “That’s what the boys did. They really started to pace hard before the penultimate climb.”

“We really did a good job as a team”, Rudy Molard

“We first decided to take the race in hand to be well positioned in the descent”, explained Rudy Molard. “Michael and Romain felt good, we had a team capable of taking control and so that’s what we did. Reuben pulled first, then I took over on the last climb to make it hard. Before that, Lada pulled all day. We really did a good job as a team. We came with ambitions, and we wanted to try on the climb to see what could happen”. “I wasn’t feeling super great at the start of the stage, but when I saw all the guys sacrificing themselves one by one and doing a great job, that gave me even more strength,” confessed Romain Grégoire. Due to the high tempo, no competitor was able to attack, and the peloton was reduced to just thirty riders on the Saint-Goussaud climb. Then, Michael Storer launched the big fight seventeen kilometres from the line although he was quickly chased down. “The pace was high from the bottom of the climb because the guys did a great job”, explained Romain. “Michael made the first move, and I took the opportunity to make a counterattack right after. It was a bit far from the top, but on the other hand, everyone was a bit at the limit after Michael’s attack. I took a little look behind after attacking, I saw that I was all alone, and from that moment, it was full gas until the end!”

The young man quickly opened a gap of about fifteen seconds on the “peloton”, from which Benoit Cosnefroy, Lorenzo Rota and… Michael Storer then broke away. At the top, the trio was still about ten seconds behind, but the gap narrowed on the following downhill. “It was not easy because the descent was not very nice”, explained Romain. “It was technical, with some wet parts, dry ones, and a bit of foam on the side of the road… I didn’t want to end up on the ground, so I was quite careful. I didn’t make a good downhill and they actually almost came back, but as soon as I got on the flat, I put myself in time trial mode and I made my effort. I also knew that Michael was riding easy behind, so I had nothing to lose. I didn’t think twice.” From a handful of seconds, the gap then increased again, to ten, then twenty and then almost thirty seconds with seven kilometres to go. The peloton being even further, the Frenchman could therefore already feel victory entering the last three kilometres. “I knew they were quite hard on a false uphill slope, so I tried to keep a bit of energy for this final and I didn’t crack,” he said. This is how, after a solo display of sixteen kilometres, the 20-year-old puncher got himself his third win among the professionals. The first one in this particular way.

“I needed to win to get some confidence”, Romain Grégoire

“I clearly had the Tour du Limousin in mind, I expected a lot from it”, said Romain. “I really wanted to win, and I did it, even though I didn’t imagine it being that way. I had the trust of the team; the team did a great job and I managed to reward them in the most beautiful way. Each victory is nice, each victory is prestigious because it is always a pro victory, so I am very proud. I also needed to win to get some confidence and it feels good mentally ahead of the Vuelta”.It’s the kind of victory you remember”, said Philippe. “This day should reassure him. More generally, the plan was to go all-in with Romain and Michael today, and it worked out pretty well.” Apart from Romain Grégoire’s victory, Groupama-FDJ indeed placed Michael Storer on the third step of the podium on Tuesday, thus retaining two major assets for the general classification. After stage 1, the Frenchman leads by twenty-three on Benoît Cosnefroy and by twenty-six on his teammate. “I first aimed for the stages, hoping that the GC would come as a consequence”, completed Romain. “I now have my stage win, so we will focus on the GC. I expect attacks all over. I have a small margin and it’s quite reassuring, but we’ll need to be super vigilant and focused the next three days. They’re not gonna make it easy for us, so we’ll need to hold on. If I can win again, I will gladly do it, but the focus will be more on the general”. “The third stage is very difficult this year”, added Philippe. “It is true that the race is usually won on bonus seconds, but this time, it will be necessary to get through stage 3 to be a bit more relaxed”.

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