At 20 years of age and starting out his first-ever season amongst the pros, Arnaud Démare of the French FDJ-BigMat team knows he still has plenty to learn. But at the same time, coming home from the Tour of Qatar with a stage victory in his pocket is not a bad sign for the future.
The 2011 U23 World champion took the race's final bunch sprint on the Doha Corniche on February 10, beating Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) and Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) after a crash on the finishing straight saw Mark Cavendish (Sky) hit the deck and overall winner Tom Boonen (Omeag Pharma-QuickStep) finish 15th. However, Demare showed he was able to be up there with the best, and Boonen as well as Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) ackowledged this.
"There were a lot of great sprinters and some of them congratulated me. Now, they know me. Next time, they won't say: what's this guy doing here? In the fight for positioning, the guys will know why I have to pass. They won't think that I would never be able to win. And that will make it easier for me to open some doors..." he reflected to Velochrono on Tuesday.
Demare, who categorises himself as a "Classics sprinter" was happy to have worked on his skills in Qatar and to have made "all the right mistakes" during the week that made him learn fast to earn his first professional victory on the final day.
"The first day, I saw that I was much too far away. Already at five kilometres from the finish, I was badly-placed. I couldn't follow my teammates' wheels, it wasn't perfect. I was able to learn lots of things in a small amount of time: how do you position yourself, to which point you wait before starting your sprint...
"Even on Thursday [when he finished seventh] I saw that I had what it takes, but sometimes you brake too early and ten guys come past you," continued the FDJ rider, who also got in "lots of wind echelon training" and learned how to identify the times during the race where "some riders are able to spare their energy. It's quite tactical."
His more experienced teammates Mickael Delage and Yoann Offredo were a source of welcome information. "We talked a lot, during the race, before and after. These conversations taught me an enormous amount of things." Delage and Offredo put their trust in their rookie teammate, and it paid off.
"Step by step, we were able to start knowing and trusting each other," Démare continued. "And discovering everyone's talents. A guy like Offredo is able to ride hard in the wind, up with the best. He can hold on like that for one kilometre and a half. Delage, on the other hand, is more explosive. He's able to pass 15 guys within 200 metres."
Now Démare is looking forward to continuing his preparation for the Flemish Classics (GP Samyn, Three Days of West Flanders, GP Cholet, Three Days of De Panne) at the Trofeo Laigueglia in Italy. "That race is more of a preparation for the Classics, where I hope to get some good results," he said.