Arnaud Démare’s harvest of victories in 2020 (14 wins, more than anyone else in pro road cycling) has only increased the Frenchman’s appetite.

“My goal is to win every race I attend,” the sprinter from Beauvais recently told local radio France Bleu Picardie as he geared up for his first battles of the season and notably Paris-Nice (March 7-14). As the peloton chases the Sun, Démare looks to claim his first victory of the season in a race that has granted him lots of success in the past.

“Arnaud had a great year in 2020 and he’s having a harder time in the beginning of this season but Paris-Nice is the goal,” Groupama-FDJ’s Sports Director Frédéric Guesdon acknowledges ahead of the second stage race of the 2021 UCI WorldTour, “We’ll assess how we are after Paris-Nice and he’ll go for some beautiful one-day races.”

Démare will share leading duties at the helm of Groupama-FDJ with the young climber David Gaudu (24 years old), who’s already raised his arms this season, last weekend at the Faun-Ardèche Classic. “We have a versatile team to play our cards on every terrain,” Guesdon highlights, but the line-up for Groupama-FDJ in Paris-Nice leans towards the sprint battles.

Another day in yellow?

Arnaud Démare reunites on French roads with four of the lead-out men who propelled him to four stage wins and the Ciclamino jersey at the last Giro d’Italia: Jacopo Guarnieri, Ramon Sinkeldam, Miles Scotson and Ignatas Konovalovas. The last member of the team, besides Gaudu, is Bruno Armirail, who’s impressed his comrades, teammates and rivals alike, with the work he puts in on any type of terrain.

This supporting cast should play its part strongly in the opening days of the race, riding through open roads full of traps. “We’ve seen lots of movements already in the first stages of the last editions of Paris-Nice,” Guesdon warns. “It’s a thrilling race, anything can happen at any time, and it often is the first big goal of the season so it adds extra pressure on the teams.”

A look at the previous results sends a different type of warning to Démare’s rivals, with the likes of Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) all set to ride away from Saint-Cyr-L’École this Sunday.

From his five participations to date, the sprinter from Groupama-FDJ has won stage 1 on three consecutive occasions (2016-18) taking Paris-Nice’s yellow jersey on the last two occasions (the 2016 edition began with a prologue).

Démare will have to be on his best from the gun, as the very first stage of the 2021 edition is challenging with a hilly route around Saint-Cyr-L’École (166km). Stage 2 is flat to Amilly (188km), as is stage 5 to Vienne-Bollène (200km). The time trial on day 3 (14.4km) and the other stages should shape the General Classification (GC) battle, like a mini-Tour de France with a mix of flat stages to survive, uphill challenges to overcome and time trials to fly through.

The Classics lover now has his mind set on the sprints

“We don’t think too much about the Tour,” says Guesdon, although Démare and Gaudu are likely to lead Groupama-FDJ’s ambitions this summer, while Thibaut Pinot focuses on the Giro d’Italia. “Before the Tour de France, I already have a nice race programme with beautiful victories to go after,” the French sprinter also explained on France Bleu. “I’ll think about the Tour de France after Paris-Roubaix.”

Between Nice and Roubaix, Démare will also ride Milano-Sanremo, the Monument he won in 2016, and Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, a Classic that saw him climb on the podium in 2014 (2nd) and 2018 (3rd). “These are races that suit him and where he’s already achieved results,” Guesdon explains. “Arnaud still has to do some Classics.”

Still, the Frenchman, who previously entertained an unconditional love for the Classics, now has his mind set on the sprints. “We see it’s better not to scatter but to focus entirely on your specialty,” Guesdon says. “Arnaud has chosen the sprint and last year showed he was right with his many victories.”

In the span of three months in 2020, from Milano-Torino to stage 11 of the Giro, Démare took 14 victories, as many as he claimed in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined. So far in 2021, he had to settle for 2nd in the opening stage of the Tour de la Provence and 37th in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Now he’s coming to Paris-Nice to up the ante and show the abilities that saw him hit the highest number of wins in 2020. –

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