Tour de France: Demare in pole position for green jersey

Is the first French stage winner since Casper a possible successor to Jalabert?

Stage 4 in the 2017 Tour de France will likely be remembered as the day when world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was disqualified. The race jury believed Sagan caused a crash in the sprint that took down Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data). Earlier, another crash took out several riders.

One man emerged out of this chaos in Vittel with his arms up in the air, however, as French champion Arnaud Démare (FDJ) captured the first French bunch sprint victory since Jimmy Casper in 2006. The 25-year-old rider also claimed his first-ever stage win in a Grand Tour on Tuesday.

"Winning ahead of the biggest sprinters in the Tour de France is something I've been waiting for since a long time. We worked hard for it with the team, hard work from Marc Madiot and now it pays off. The cohesion in the team is perfect. We have fun on the bike," Démare said in the mixed zone after the podium presentation.

"Our strength this year is to adjust our team to the situation. We have strong riders who can swap roles. Right now, I'm thinking about how it would work if we had everyone in the job he's supposed to do."

Démare isn't a new kid on the block, despite his young age. He's a double French champion, winner of Milan-San Remo and the Vattenfall Cyclassics, stage winner in Paris-Nice, Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse and Eneco Tour, and the former U23 road race world champion. Still, this win was different.

"Two minutes after crossing the line it started sinking in," he said. "I was able to hide it behind my glasses. It's a feeling I didn't have at my other races. It's extraordinary because at the Tour, it reaches the big crowd, not only the cycling fans. Winning at the Tour de France is quite something. The privilege is the bleu-blanc-rouge jersey. I don't realize just yet what it means to lift the arms up while wearing this jersey."

One day before his win, Démare was breathing confidence when Cyclingnews approached him in Longwy. He actually predicted his victory.

"Mentally, I was really strong. I've got a lot of confidence. Like I said before, you need good legs but you also need some luck," Démare said.

As Démare predicted, the last kilometres were nervous as two crashes marred the end of the race.

"The crash happened near the front and early on," he said. "These are very dangerous sprints. Jacobo was well positioned, but at 600 metres there was a crash and he went down. I thought it was over. Davide Cimolai moved up well and he replaced him at the last minute. I was able to start the sprint in a good position. I had good legs. The odds were in my favour and I pulled it off. I knew I had the legs to do it. It's extraordinary."

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When asked about his own sprint, Démare acknowledged that he's taking more risks than before, due to physical strength and confidence.

"It's simple. When you're on the limit, you lose a lot of lucidity," he said. "You don't know where you're going. In my first grand tour, the Giro, I was struggling to hold the wheels. I had to undergo the race. Now I'm much stronger and I'm making decisions in the sprint. The freshness and lucidity allows me to take certain risks. That helps a lot to position yourself, to put your wheel where you wouldn't have dared in the past. It allows me to brake later.

"Nowadays, I reach the sprints more serene and more fresh. That plays an important role," Démare said.

Démare repeatedly said that the slow stage resulted in a nervous final part of the race.

"I knew it would be a nervous final after a stage that wasn't particularly fast. There was only one rider in the attack in a stage of 207 kilometres, so it was easy to control. It was a good day for the injured and ill riders," Démare said.

Démare repeated this again when asked about his own sprint, in which he clearly swerved to the left and nearly caused his arch-rival Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to go down.

"We knew it would be a sprint in which one would have to fight for position," Démare said. "First there was the crash at 600 metres with Guarnieri. I didn't see the other crash. I had to slalom to move up. I passed where it was possible for me. I feared that [Alexander] Kristoff would shut the door on the right, that's why I decided to go on the left. I went much faster. I really wanted to find the space. I didn't predict a crash, but I realized it might become a sprint that could turn out as a very dirty sprint."

For his efforts on the stage, Démare took over the green jersey from Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors). During the previous stages, Démare collected 57 points in the intermediate sprints and at the finishes of stages 2 and 3 in which he respectively finished second and sixth, thanks to his climbing abilities. During the interviews in the mixed zone, Démare still believed that Sagan was the favourite to win the points classification.

"Sagan remains the big favourite. The Tour de France is long, but for now I'm not trailing and that's good. I know you really need to win a stage to wear the jersey on the Champs-Élysées. I remain in the battle but Sagan remains the top favourite," Démare said.

Half an hour later, word spread that the jury took away 80 points from Sagan. During the press conference, Cyclingnews asked Démare about this new situation.

"I just heard about it. It changes things a lot. I haven't seen the footage. If there was a mistake then one has to congratulate the jury for having the guts to sanction the world champion, today's cycling star," he said. "It offers me a real opportunity. I haven't seen the footage so I can't talk about the incident. I can only talk about the maillot vert. Today, surely, it offers me a good chance. Still, it's three weeks so that remains a long way to go. I just heard about it. It's not that obvious."

Later, the jury announced that Sagan was not only relegated, not only lost his points, but was also disqualified from the Tour de France, putting an end to a five-year 'green' reign of Sagan.

Suddenly, Démare enjoys a massive lead, totalling 124 points. Marcel Kittel is in second place with only 81 points, ahead of Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) with 66 points. if he can hold onto the lead, Démare can become the first French winner of the points classification since Laurent Jalabert in 1995.

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