Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) is almost starting to lose count on this Giro d'Italia. While one of the Frenchman's responses was being translated during the stage winner's press conference in Rimini on Wednesday, a photographer motioned to catch his attention. Démare raised two fingers in a victory salute as he posed for the picture, before smilingly correcting himself and spreading his palm to show four fingers.
Already a winner of a hat-trick of stages in the opening week, Démare maintained his 100 per cent record in mass finishes on this Giro with a dominant sprint victory ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep) on the seafront in Rimini.
Démare's first win on this Giro came on the Tyrrhenian coast in Villafranca Tirrena on stage 4, when his sprint briefly risked floundering after Miles Scotson inadvertently rode the peloton off his wheel in the final kilometre. This time out, the Groupama-FDJ lead-out was watertight. Scotson channelled his power smoothly in the final kilometre, and then Jacopo Guarnieri piloted Démare halfway up the Lungomare August Murri. Once Démare hit open water, nobody could match his rate of knots.
"That's four sprints and four wins. Today was a perfect sprint, the first perfect sprint of the Giro for me," Démare said afterwards. "We had good timing. Ignatas Konovalovas took it up with 2km to go and then there were big turns from Miles Scotson and Jacopo Guarnier. Jacopo went from 400m to go and did a big effort, so when I launched my sprint, we were already going very fast."
Démare has been one of the peloton's outstanding performers since racing resumed in early August after the coronavirus lockdown. Though omitted (as planned) from Groupama-FDJ's Tour de France team, he has scarcely missed a beat over the past ten weeks, racking up 14 wins in this compressed and rearranged calendar, including Milano-Torino, the French national title and the Tour du Poitou-Charentes.
Some of his sprint rivals – perhaps most notably on this Giro, Elia Viviani (Cofidis) – have visibly struggled to rediscover the top-end speed since the hiatus, but Démare looks to have benefited from the long stint away from racing. He paid tribute to his Groupama-FDJ team for essentially leaving him to his own devices at the start of the period of lockdown.
"I just adapted to the situation with the team. They didn't make me do ten virtual races a week, they allowed us to keep calm," Démare said. "It was a difficult period, but the team didn't put pressure on me. I had 15 days off at the start of the lockdown, then I did 8 to 10 hours a week on the turbo, nothing exceptional."
Démare sustained a broken wrist just as the lockdown was lifted in France, which compelled him to spend another two weeks off the bike. All told, he reckons he had six weeks of full training in his legs when he returned to action at the Vuelta a Burgos, where he notched up a frustrating brace of second places but came away convinced that his sharpness had survived the lockdown intact.
"I was really à bloc in that period before Burgos. I trained very hard to get back into form and that's what I like, having a short-term objective to work towards," said Démare. "In the background, I had all the early-season work in my legs, like the work I did at altitude in Sierra Nevada."
Démare's victory in Rimini sees him extend his lead in the points classification to 36 points over Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). A year ago, he lost the tunic to Sagan's teammate Pascal Ackermann thanks to a strategic blunder at Santa Maria di Sala in the final week. On the evidence so far, Démare has no reason to shirk a head-to-head contest on this Giro.
"Our Giro was already basically a success when we won in the first week. Our season is already a success, I've won 14 races," Démare said. "Everything now is a bonus."
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