The past two seasons have seen Arnaud Démare (FDJ) make huge leaps forward in his career. The French national champion is looking increasingly stronger having finished second to John Degenkolb at Gent-Wevelgem and almost made the top 10 at Paris-Roubaix two weeks later. Former French winner Frederik Guesdon has said he believes Démare can win this season's Paris-Roubaix. However, the 23-year-old says that a victory in the Hell of the North is still just a dream that is unlikely to be realised in 2015.
"It's true that we often speak of Roubaix, but in the long term," he told L'Équipe. "We must be honest. This year would be premature to predict excellent performance. Last year, I cracked in the Carrefour de l'Arbre, I was there, but I felt weak, powerless. For now, I have suffered, suffered, suffered. When you are capable of being at the end and can attack then maybe I would say, 'well, next year'."
Démare began his 2015 classics campaign with a 10th place at Omloop Het Niewsblad, finishing in a group nearly five minutes back on the winner Ian Stannard (Team Sky). It matches his result from the same race last year and is a step forwards after a lacklustre start to the year, although he chose not to ride Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day.
The Frenchman says that the heat of the Qatar and Oman races was partly to blame for his poor performances. "It is true I had bad feelings, but I think the weather affected me. Returning to the cold, I found the strength. On Saturday I found myself liking it. The legs are better so I'm a little relieved," he said.
Démare is riding his fourth season as a professional coming off the back of one of his best seasons thus far, winning his second Four days of Dunkirk title, plus wins at Oman, Picardie and the national title in July. He is yet to nail that one big victory that his under-23 world championship promises but he believes that it could be just around the corner.
"I prefer not to burn through stages, everything is solid. I've always done it like this. At 23 I cannot have the strength of a man of 26 or 27 years. However, for the next few years it's a good sign. If I'm serious, I do not see why it will not work. Earlier, I spoke of Roubaix, but it was a dream. Now I have it in mind. I feel that one day it can become a reality, but this season, I think a stage in the Tour is more likely."
Démare rode his first Tour de France last season, beating Nacer Bouhanni to the role as lead sprinter – despite Bouhanni's performance at the Giro. Démare did eventually finish with two top-three finishes to add to his palmarès, but found the going much tougher than before.
"I suffered. I was not used to struggling so badly in the bunch. Usually I suffer to win, I was struggling to stay in the group. Psychologically, it is not the same," he said.
Démare will next line up at Paris-Nice this Sunday, followed by Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d'Italia.