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Many expected the ride from San Remo to Cuneo to be a difficult day on the bike, but pulling back a four-man breakaway inside the final kilometer was not in the road book for Friday.
As the line neared and the breakaway kept pushing on, Démare questioned if he should even keep trying to bring them back.
“It was very stressful at that time in the race,” an animated Démare told reporters during his post-victory press conference. “I was balancing between depression and stress, sometimes I felt like letting it go because it looked like the race was lost and then the adrenaline came back because there was a possibility to come back to the breakaway.
“Luckily, we had information about what was happening every five kilometers. Our sport director was telling us from the team car.”
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The victory is Démare’s third of the Giro d’Italia, having racked up back-to-back stage victories in the opening week. It puts him on 238 points at the top of the ciclamino jersey standings, almost double the next best rider, Mark Cavendish.
His winning streak at this Giro d’Italia is akin to the one he enjoyed in 2020, when he also won the ciclamino jersey. However, it’s a stark difference from the grand tour experience he had last year when he left the Tour de France in the first week and failed to score a win at all during the Vuelta a España.
One victory can often open the door for more, particularly when it comes to sprinting. That is the case for Démare at this Giro d’Italia as the confidence he feels allows him to rely on his instincts rather than trying too hard.
“When I’ve got doubts about myself, I think too much. I’ve always wanted a perfect sprint and I expect a perfect sprint rather than let my instincts do the talking,” he said. “That is a mistake I did two days ago. It’s a question of confidence. Now, after three wins in the Giro I can tell myself that one more win won’t change much and I can say to myself ‘Arnaud, just enjoy it.’”
Putting it all on the table
With 20 kilometers to go, the victory was in the balance as the four plucky escapees still had some 2:30 on the chasing pack behind. The time gap was coming down, but not as fast as it should be and there was a growing risk that the sprinters would fall short.
There came a moment when Groupama-FDJ and other teams had to put all their chips on the table. It meant sacrificing riders that would ordinarily be used later in the stage so that there was a victory to fight for.
“We always have in mind the rule of two minutes advantage with 20 to go and one minute advantage with 10k to go,” he said. “However, there was quite a big gap and the riders in the front must have done a fantastic race at the end because we had to use everyone to bring them back that was not according to our pre-race briefing.
“Tobias Ludvigsson and Ignatas Konovalovas had to chase earlier than what was planned. So, even if we didn’t have the ideal train at the end, the first goal was to bring back the breakaway gap, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do the sprint.”
Démare himself had to go all in, something that was evident as he lay on the asphalt trying to regain his energy shortly after the finish line.
“I’m really exhausted, it’s not often that I fall on the ground after I finish a sprint but today it was really hard to come across to the breakaway,” Démare said. “We gave it all for the victory and the work of my teammates was extraordinary, one after the other they gave everything. It’s a big victory that we managed to get together.
“For the whole 150 kilometers, I was close to my limit, and I think I was not the only one. The whole peloton was in the red. These last meters on the cobblestones really hurt. Normally, I really like this kind of finish but today I was lacking the freshness to really enjoy it.”