Groupama-FDJ sprinter Arnaud Démare stood on the podium in Milan at the finish of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday having taken a commanding victory in the points competition ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and four stage wins along the way. The second half of this coronavirus-affected season has been in stark contrast to the first for Démare, who now hopes he can carry the momentum through to next season.
"I have had an exceptional Giro and, generally, an exceptional season, in every way," said Démare on his team's website.
After what had been a winless start to the season at the UAE Tour, Démare was then one of the riders kept in quarantine in the team's hotel in Abu Dhabi, and then fractured his wrist in a mountain-bike training crash in mid-May. However, he recovered in time for the return to racing after the sport's forced coronavirus lockdown, taking two second places at the Vuelta a Burgos in late July.
"There was the lockdown, my scaphoid fracture and then all these victories that followed one another," said Démare of his mixed fortunes this year. "I remember the permanent team spirit from the end of July until today. The lead-out train guys, in particular, were exceptional, and I personally had the legs to conclude their work. I'll be able to have a very good off-season, and I know what I have to do to continue to perform well."
Démare was not part of Groupama-FDJ's Tour de France squad, which was built solely around Thibaut Pinot's overall ambitions, but certainly showed in the month before the Tour that he appeared to have the form to have done well there. The 29-year-old Frenchman took victory at Milano-Torino at the start of August, followed by two stage wins and the overall title at the Tour de Wallonie. He then won the road race title at the National Championships in the week before the Tour, but insisted that his goal was the Giro.
And while the Tour got under way in Nice at the end of August, Démare continued winning at the concurrent Tour Poitou-Charentes, taking three stage wins and the overall classification, and then won a stage at the Tour de Luxembourg in mid-September.
'Let's keep going'
Everything pointed towards a successful Giro, and after getting through the opening time trial and the following hilly couple of days, Démare successfully took his first opportunity on stage 3 in Villafranca Tirrena, winning the bunch sprint ahead of Sagan and Deceuninck-QuickStep's Davide Ballerini.
He then took back-to-back stage victories on stages 6 and 7, ahead of Michael Matthews (Sunweb) and Sagan once more, respectively, and then again in Rimini on stage 11 – once more at the expense of Sagan.
"When we won our first stage, we thought, 'Let's keep going!'" Démare said. "And after the second, 'Let's keep going!' The third? 'Let's keep going!'
"Ultimately, we got four victories and the cyclamen jersey ahead of Sagan, who is arguably the toughest rider I could have faced. I was really disappointed last year with the loss of the jersey, and it was still close this year," he said, remembering how he lost the points jersey to Sagan's Bora teammate Pascal Ackermann with just three days to go to the finish in Verona at the 2019 Giro.
"It wasn't until the day before yesterday [Friday], when the breakaway won, that I knew that it was in the bag," said Démare. "From a personal point of view, it's satisfying, but I'll remember my four stage wins above everything. Winning the cyclamen jersey was important for people back at home, though, and I've actually received a lot of messages of support along the way, encouraging me to try to wrap up the points title."