A confidence boosting win at Halle Ingooigem just over a week out from the Tour de France has Arnaud Démare confident of breaking through for a debut stage win. The FDJ fastman Démare took the win ahead of Belgians Edward Theuns and Iljo Keisse. Démare's seventh win of the season ensures he is the form French sprinter of the moment and a favourite to add to his 2013 French road title this Sunday in Saint-Omer.
Having ridden the Giro d'Italia in support of Thibaut Pinot, who finished fourth overall, FDJ's Tour de France ambitions are built around Démare's sprint train and quest for stage wins with the 25-year-old looking likely to repay the faith placed in him this July.
In 2017, Démare has taken wins at Etoile de Bessèges, Paris-Nice, 4 Jours de Dunkerque, Critérium du Dauphiné and the GP Denain. While Démare is in form, he explained the win was nevertheless important psychologically ahead of the French nationals and next week's Tour having only finished with two teammates.
"The day was very hot, we knew we would be attacked a lot and on the circuit I had only two riders. We got a little bit lost and then Olivier [le Gac] and Mika [Mickaël Delage] did a good job," Démare said. "I'm happy to win. I feel that the legs are turning well since the Critérium du Dauphiné. Halle-Ingooigem is a race that I like to prepare for the French championships. In Saint-Omer it will be a race for the sprinters and I know it will be difficult. And then the Tour de France is very important for us."
FDJ's directeur sportif sportif Frédéric Guesdon echoed Démare's comments, explaining the win bodes well for the next two major goals.
"We were one of only two sprint teams, Lotto-Soudal and us. Quickly we controlled the race and so it was on us," Guesdon said. "It was a demanding race with the heat. The Belgian team upped the tempo 80 kilometres from the finish so we responded, but we also used a lot of energy. Marc Sarreau was not very good but he rode a lot. Jacopo Guarnieri had a rather complicated week due to his wife's birth and he suffered from cramps but he did his job as well."
Démare's best season to date came in 2014 when he won 15 races. He struggled the following year when he won just two races but improved last year to claim six wins. His seven wins by June suggest he is on track for at least his second best season. From four previous Grand Tours starts, second place on stage five of last year's Giro is Démare's best result in a three-week race. However, with wins from February through to June, Démare will start the Tour as one of the top sprinters to watch in the battle for stage wins.