Demare fires Paris-Nice warning shot ahead of Milan-San Remo

FDJ sprinter and 2016 San Remo champion has three wins so far this season

Stage 1 of Paris-Nice was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill sprint stage with a two-loop circuit culminating in a match up between some of the best sprinters on the planet.

What ensued was far better, with 3 hours, 22 minutes and 43 seconds of bike racing at it's best, and Arnaud Demare coming away with a worthy stage win and the first leader's yellow jersey in this year's race.

The FDJ sprinter has now won three times this season, and with Milan-San Remo on the horizon he has to be seen as a credible contender to defend last year's crown.

The 25-year-old's win in Bois-d'Arcy came after a day of exhilarating cross-wind racing as Quick-Step, Lotto Soudal and a well-represented FDJ split the peloton inside the first hour of racing.

Although a second group containing a batch of pre-race GC favourites looked to limit their losses, Demare and his companions made sure that victory would come from their number. With 10 kilometres to go the stage outcome was still too close to call. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step floors), Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) and Alexandre Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) all remained in the front group, but as the finish approached cracks began to appear.

Coquard was the first to slip off the back and Kittel and Greipel soon followed. Not content on waiting for the sprint, Demare jumped clear on the final climb after Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) had attacked and the Frenchmen fought out the stage in a two-up sprint.

"We knew that were would be echelons and it was very stressful, but to win like that is fantastic," Demare told the press during his winner's press conference.

"It shows what good legs I have. I'm pleased with my ride because I knew that it would be a very demanding race. We know that it would be tough on the final climb, and when the team told me on the radio that Kittel, Greipel and Coquard had been dropped, that gave me confidence.

"To follow a guy like Julian Alaphilippe shows that I'm strong and that there are new possibilities for me. I've got more confidence and I feel stronger. My recovery is better and it's been a good start to the season. What's made the difference is the team around me."

After Demare won Milan-San Remo in 2016, the management at FDJ decided to build a more complete unit around their number one sprinter. Jacopo Guarnieri was pinched from Kristoff's leadout train, and Davide Cimolai moved across from Lampre. It was no coincidence that both of FDJ's new signings made the key split with Demare, but so too did Olivier Le Gac, Rudy Molard, and Marc Sarreau. FDJ have steel to match Demare's guile.

"It was a demanding stage throughout," the winner said.

"The conditions were tough and we were flat out with the echelons. I expected attacks from Julian Alaphilippe, Philippe Gilbert and Tony Gallopin, so I tried to follow. The climb at the end wasn't too long and that helped. I think there was general fatigue out there, and I had fantastic support out there with guys around me in the break. It's better than being alone and it helps both physically and psychologically.

"I've a better mindset now," Demare added as he explained his continued progression.

"I feel I'm in my best years now. Having two victories already this year has really helped me move forward. I've an appetite to win more but tomorrow is going to be tough. I'll start with a smile on my face and I'll try and win again. I'm here to train for the Classics, but I'll try to win another one or two stages here." 

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