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With no Démare, Groupama-FDJ lead out an unfamiliar face at the Tour of Oman

Paul Penhoët (Groupama-FDJ)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What does a lead out train do when the team's star sprinter decides to stay home and race on home roads rather than head to the Gulf to take on the first Tour of Oman in three years?

That's the dilemma Groupama-FDJ face this week when Arnaud Démare pulled out of the squad to instead ride the Tour de la Provence. The French team stepped up to the challenge with a call-up for their Continental squad sprinter Paul Penhoët.

The French team has been notable in recent years for promoting young riders from their development programme, including taking advantage of the UCI rule which allows Continental development team riders to step-up and race alongside their WorldTour colleagues during the season.

Penhoët, who hails from the south-west suburbs of Paris, has this week followed the likes of Jake Stewart, Lars van ben Berg, and Lewis Askey in doing just that, having taken in several race days with the WorldTour squad last season too.

On Thursday he took fifth place on the opening sprint stage in Oman, finishing just behind stage winner Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and second-placed Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVInyl) on the windy uphill finish in Muscat. On stage 2, he was a respectable eighth behind Cavendish.

"Here we have like 90 per cent of the lead out which we use for Arnaud," Miles Scotson told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2. 

"He's 20 years old and he's now sitting on the back of it and hoping to get a result. So it's a nice experience for him."

Penhoët is accompanied in Oman by Scotson as well as Ramon Sinkeldam and Ignatas Konovalovas, as only Jacopo Guarnieri and Stefan Küng are missing from what would be the team's top lead-out train.

"It was a last-minute adjustment," said Scotson of the Démare-Penhoët switch. "Normally we started here with Arnaud's group and in the end, he decided to start in Provence.

"We still have a good sprinter with Paul. He's young and last year was the first time he did some races with us but this is his first real shot. So it's nice to have a new objective and he's young so there's no pressure on him."

Last year Penhoët took several victories, including a stage at the National Cup race L'Etoile d'Or, plus a stage, the overall and both points and youth jerseys at the Tour d'Eure-et-Loire, where he beat 2022 Ineos Grenadiers neo-pros Kim Heiduk and Ben Turner.

Sprinting with the pros is a different matter, though, with Scotson saying that while an established top sprinter such as Démare garners full respect in the peloton, life is harder for a newcomer like Penhoët.

"We had a nice result yesterday and tried to prepare the train, but Paul kind of lost the wheel a bit. We have to remember as a train that he doesn't have the same respect as Arnaud does in the bunch, so I imagine this week he can maybe be pushed a bit off the wheel. Fifth is a good confidence booster for him, though.

"Démare has won the bigger races, has that bit more respect, and he's older and probably more confident to really hold his position. I think with Paul that's going to be the key thing this week in dealing with this. Nobody knows him yet and they're not going to show that respect so he'll have to fight a little bit."

Penhoët, Scotson and the rest of the Groupama-FDJ lead-out train – who will link up with Démare at the UAE Tour – test themselves once again on stage 2 up the coast, with crosswinds possibly providing a challenge to the new-look lead out.

"It's a new challenge here," Penhoët said of the race. "But we have a good team here so I think it hasn't been a problem. I found a good place behind these guys and it's going perfectly.

"After this, I'll have two French Cup races [with the WorldTour team] and then after that, we'll see if I make a good result then maybe more." 

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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.

Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.