I spoke of French sprinter Arnaud Démare a couple of days ago – he went on to get second behind German Marcel Kittel in the crazy first road stage – and his performance yesterday has made me even keener on the FdJ rider’s future as a great sprinter, perhaps the best the French have had for decades.
Yesterday’s uphill sprint into Longwy was unusual in that it served up a mix of the top GC (or Yellow Jersey contenders), stage hunters (riders with a mixed bag of skills) and pure sprinters. Démare’s sixth place on the tough finish, while behind powerhouse’s Sagan and Matthews, was superb in that there was no other pure sprinter anywhere near – making him the strongest of the specialty fast-men in my book. The French like that quality in him – they never took to Mario Cipollini for example – they want endurant riders who suffer and fight.
Démare is on a roll, his recent win at the Belgian semi-classic Halle-Ingooigem (a Belgian name if there ever was one) was imperial – he was so much faster than everyone else. Ditto at the French Championships, he took Bouhanni from the front and with ease. Bouhanni, to note, is racing towards home in the Voges today, so keep an eye on him.
Démare’s lead-out train came apart in the stage two chaos – which is normal in the hectic first days of the Tour, and his superb lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri, was weakened in the end and lacked the power to close the deal. The team, especially after Démare’s two terrific performances so far, will be hyper motivated to bring their champion home to Vittel in front. Today will be what the French call a Sprint Royale and with yet another very long day in the saddle taking the sting out of some of the faster but perhaps less endurant sprinters, the strong French Champion has the perfect opportunity today to show the world that he has arrived as one of the great sprinters.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.