Arnaud Démare could only smile when the statistic was put to him at the start of stage 2 of the Three Days of De Panne in Zottegem on Wednesday. As March turns to April, his FDJ squad is one of the just two WorldTour teams – LottoNL-Jumbo is the other – without a win to its name thus far in 2015
As the squad’s lone sprinter following the departure of Nacer Bouhanni, Démare is the man expected to make the most regular deposits in the wins column for FDJ, and he acknowledged that the lack of success, both personal and collective, has added its own pressures.
"Of course, it's normal. It puts a bit more pressure on my shoulders that we haven't won a race yet, because that's why we're here: to win races," Démare told Cyclingnews. "We haven't won a race as a team. Personally I've had good legs so far this season, and as a team we've been up there a lot. We've got a lot of good riders, that's not in question, so if we get a bit of success things will take off from there."
When L'Équipe launched a discreet inquest into FDJ's early-season showing earlier this week, Démare's performance was defended robustly by manager Marc Madiot, who pointed to the character he showed in finishing Sunday's storm-buffeted Gent-Wevelgem in 15th place despite an early crash. "He did his job like a champion and I know that's going to pay off soon," Madiot said.
"I fell once and then after that I had to unclip from the pedals several times to avoid coming down in more crashes caused by the wind," Démare said of Gent-Wevelgem, where he had placed second behind John Degenkolb in 2014. “It was very difficult with the extreme conditions, with the wind and the rain and the cold, but that's all part of the cycling. It was a beautiful race all the same, with a worthy winner. All told, it's good experience for me for the future, so I'm still happy with it."
The monumental week that begins with the Tour of Flanders and ends with Paris-Roubaix is the culmination of Démare's spring, but the man from Beauvais is keen to steel himself for those twin challenges with a victory in De Panne this week. Démare was unable to make an impact in the disjointed bunch sprint in Koksijde on Wednesday, however, and had to settle for 11th.
"Well, the objective coming here was to win a stage, so that at least I'd be off the mark with a win for the year,” Démare said. “But on top of that, given that it's the week before Flanders, it's certainly not a bad idea to come here and get used to battling for positions on the cobbles and so on. The form is there for sure, but I'd still like to get a win under my belt."
Like most observers, Démare believes the absence of Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara will make for a curious Tour of Flanders – "It’s already an open race but with two big champions missing, that's going to change things even more" – though he is aware that Paris-Roubaix on Sunday week is better-suited to his talents.
Démare's 12th-place finish a year ago has raised hopes at FDJ that he might one day be the man to bridge the gap to the last French winner of Paris-Roubaix, Frédéric Gueson, who triumphed in 1997. Guesdon is now Démare's directeur sportif at FDJ, and he told Cyclingnews that he believes the 23-year-old is already capable of winning in Roubaix this year.
"Yes, in cycling you have to believe,” Démare said. “If you don't believe you can win then there's no point in even starting. I believe I can do it, why not?"
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