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Arnaud Démare scorched to victory in L’Isle Jourdain at the end of the Route d’Occitanie’s 174.4km opening stage.
In a hectic finale, Démare’s Dutch teammates Bram Welten and Ramon Sinkeldam put him in pole position and he held off B&B Hotels-KTM fast man Pierre Barbier for his fourth victory of the year. Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers) rounded off the podium.
“I’m really happy to win,” Démare said. “It was very hot out there. We were measuring our effort because the heart rate really shot up on the finishing circuit. It felt like the peloton rode in slow motion most of the day because we were all affected by the temperatures.”
It was the Frenchman’s first race back since winning three stages at the Giro d’Italia.
“I was tired from that and came here to help get in shape for the national championships,” he said of his next objective.
However, don’t expect to see the 30-year-old at the Tour de France: it was announced back in January that Démare would not race the Groupama-FDJ squad.
Meanwhile, the four-day Route d’Occitanie continues tomorrow, with stage 2 finishing at the hilltop village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, famous for its cheese.
Favorites for the overall include two-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic).
The race winner will have to like it hot: the sweltering conditions in southwestern France are set to continue for the next few days.