Arnaud Démare (FDJ) proved he is more than just a promising sprinter by winning the 4 Jours de Dunkerque race. The 21 year-old Frenchman won the opening three stages using his finishing speed and also had the strength and support to stay with the leaders on Saturday's hilly stage. He beat Florian Vachon (Bretagne Séché Environnement) by 16 seconds, with Ramon Sinkeldam (Argos-Shimano) at 26 seconds.
The 2011 Under 23 world champion won six races in 2012, including the Vattenfall Cyclassics WorldTour race. He took the Grand Prix de Denain this spring after getting an intense taste of the cobbled Classics, under the guidance of FDJ team manager and former Paris-Roubaix winner Marc Madiot.
"It's where you learn and absorb everything," Madiot told Equipe. "When you finish these you, you can apply what you've learnt to other racers and Démare is a fast learner."
Démare agreed with his boss,admitting it was hard to defend the leader's pink jersey in the hilly stages.
"When you go up against the best riders in the world in races like Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders it can only make you a better rider. I've done the cobbled Classics for two years now and I think I've learnt a lot. Hopefully it'll help me in the future," he said.
"It was hard on Saturday. I knew I come under attack but we raced intelligently and put riders in the early breaks. It worked and I was surprised to hang on in the final kilometres."
No rivalry with Bouhanni
Démare is one of two talented sprinters at FDJ. Current French national champion Nacer Bouhanni is the other and is riding the Giro d'Italia. It seems he will be the protected sprinter at FDJ for the Tour de France, while Demare will ride a different programme.
"Nacer had a great start to the season, he's got a different race programme and is riding really well. I hope he wins at the Giro, it'll be good for the team. We prove that the level of the sprinters in France is pretty high."
"We're not rivals, we're teammates. I'm not in a rush to ride the Tour de France. There are some good races in August that I can win. I won’t do the Tour this year but I'll be at the start one day."