Two days after his first-ever stage win in the Tour de France, Arnaud Démare (FDJ) tried to add another to his tally in Troyes on Thursday, but came up short behind Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and had to settle for second place. More importantly, the French champion's lead in the points classification shrunk thanks to the German's valuable victory.
In the mad dash to the finish line, Démare was boxed in on the right-hand side of the road, but the lanky Frenchman slipped through a narrow gap to capture second place.
"I thought I was winning when I overtook André Greipel, but then I saw a blue bullet on the left. You can tell he's going much faster than us. I'm glad to finish in second place," Démare said.
Although he won the intermediate sprint, Démare gave up 20 points to Kittel at the finish and saw his lead in the green jersey competition shrink to just 27 points (170 points to Kittel's 143).
"There's a great duel. There's two wins. I did well in the intermediate sprint where he was only seventh, so he lost a few points. With the stage finish, the gap remains the same. The Tour is very long and it's certainly not won yet. You always risk not being able to dispute a sprint, so my advantage can quickly disappear."
Two days earlier, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was disqualified for aggressive sprinting behaviour towards Mark Cavendish. On the same stage, Démare was criticised but not penalised for diverging from his line and nearly taking out Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
In Troyes, Démare continued to take risks as he slipped through a minuscule gap on the right-hand side of the road. "When I passed on the right it was on the very limit. I wasn't 100 per cent in the sprint. There are no regrets. I continue to score points for the green jersey. It's reassuring. I had a lot of speed. I managed to sneak through a small gap on the side," Démare said.
Before launching Démare, lead-out man Jacobo Guarnieri clashed with Bouhanni while battling for the wheel of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Despite the absence of Sagan and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), the sprint in Troyes wasn't exactly a clean sprint.
"That's one rider, Peter Sagan, and he wasn't taking the whole width of the road. Sprints remain very disputed, so there's always a bit of pushing going on. Then again, it's a bit cleaner now," Démare said.