The first part of Paris-Nice ended this Tuesday, and after three rough stages in the wind and the rain, Rudy Molard and Thibaut Pinot are perfectly in position in the general classification (13th and 15th) before the time trial on Wednesday. Today, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team again showed its strength to get through more splits and echelons in the final and keep its leaders safe. At the finish, Marc Sarreau made the most of his remaining energy to place twelveth in a sprint won by Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-McLaren).
“It was nervous throughout the second half of the race” Marc Sarreau
Quite a long day was expected today for the Paris-Nice’s riders, from Chalette-sur-Loing, the town where Marc Sarreau rode as a young cyclist. But the day was going to be even longer for the brave Tom Devriendt (Circus-Wanty Gobert), who broke away in the first kilometers and who never received the company he hoped for at the head of the race. Despite everything, the Belgian kept going in front of the bunch, not bothered to let him go. In a gloomy weather once again, the only breakaway rider could enjoy a ten-minute lead at first, before the gap was reduced to seven minutes at the halfway point. However, it was only with 80 kilometers to go that the peloton started to increase the pace and show signs of tension, even if echelons were quite unlikely at this point.
“It was the third stage in a row with wind and rain,” said Frank Pineau. “However, it was a headwind for the first part of the race. We knew it would a ¾ front wind in the last 60 km, and even a side wind in the final.” The fight for positions therefore started early, even if the decisive splits did not occur until the last intermediate sprint was passed, about twenty kilometers from the finish. “There was a bit of panic when the roads got more exposed, but it was for nothing as there was often a 3/4 front wind, insisted Marc Sarreau. It was nervous throughout the second half of the race. We were always on small roads, everyone wanted to position himself, so there were a lot of accelerations and braking until the final. There were many attempts of echelons, but they all failed until the last fifteen kilometers”.
“I hope to do a good time trial” Thibaut Pinot
“We always have been alongside Thibaut to try to take him as well as possible on this finale to La Châtre,” said Frank. And if the wind finally caused much less damage than the previous days, it was nonetheless a tricky day, during which everyone could once again take part to the team effort. Sprinter Marc Sarreau also did a lot of work before trying his luck in the last kilometre: “The focus was on Thibaut, but when it is like that, you also do what you can. When I heard in the radio that Thibaut was there, I decided I was going to try to go for the sprint. It was difficult, there were many waves, I tried to follow some lead-out trains but the sprint was a bit hard and I had also spent a lot of energy earlier in the day. I couldn’t do a good sprint”. Twelfth at the finish, Sarreau crossed the line a few meters ahead of Rudy and Thibaut, who completed the stage alongside the other favourites. Thibaut Pinot could obviously be satisfied after this last tricky stage.
“These were three very nervous and exhausting days, and I think everyone is tired this evening,” he said. “We will try to recover well because tomorrow is another very important stage with the time trial. I hope to make a good one, lose as little time as possible or even gain some on some climbers. I’m not sure what to expect, but for sure, the first time trial of the year is always tricky, especially since I’ve not done any since July. We will try to make a good result, but in any case, the legs will decide”. The discipline specialist Stefan Küng will naturally be keen to do well too, even though he has been doing a lot of work in recent days. “It was complicated to save energy for tomorrow, especially for Stefan, who also has the mission to protect Thibaut in these extremely complicated days,” concluded Frank. “He could not save energy at all. He was focused on Thibaut, like the rest of the team, but tomorrow is another day, and we will try to do a good time trial.”