Arnaud Démare (FDJ) confirmed his fast start to the new season by winning stage 1 of Paris-Nice in Vendôme. By claiming his second victory of the year - he already has a stage at La Méditerranéenne to his name - Démare has already matched his win count for the entirety of 2015, which was itself a stark contrast with his fine 2014 campaign, when he won 14 races.
Speaking after the stage on Monday evening, Démare was adamant that his lacklustre 2015 season was a consequence of bad luck rather than a lack of motivation.
“I never laid down arms last year. I always devoted myself in the same way to doing what I love doing the most, cycling. I gave it everything and I was always analysing myself with an eye to better days,” Démare said, according to L’Équipe.
“Maybe I just didn’t have enough luck last year. This time it’s smiled upon me. It was about time, because sometimes it’s tough to try to understand what isn’t working. But I always worked with the same desire and that pays off eventually.”
Démare produced a prodigious sprint effort to overhaul Ben Swift (Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in the final 150 metres. It marked Démare’s first WorldTour win since he landed a stage of the Eneco Tour in 2013, and his first major triumph since he won the French national title against his then-teammate Bouhanni in 2014.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this victory, so it’s an immense relief,” Démare said. “This win is reassuring for the future and also for my teammates, who are going to have even more motivation to help me do it again.
“I was badly placed today and I had to launch my effort from too far out, with 250 metres to go. I had it in my head to sit on Nacer because he had two teammates with him and then I needed to make up the ground on Ben Swift. It wasn’t as easy as that.”
Monday’s stage saw the peloton tackle four sectors of dirt roads – chemins de calcaire in the local parlance – but while the finale made for fascinating viewing, Démare felt that the experience was not comparable to Paris-Rouabix.
“It was nothing like the pave where you’re always in danger. There were some dead moments here, where you could even relax for a minute,” he said. “You just needed to stay with the move.”