When he turns 21 next Sunday, FDJ-BigMat’s Arnaud Demare will reflect back on the early present he gave himself at today’s 17th Vattenfall Cyclassics as the moment he broke into the big time. In becoming the first French winner – and youngest overall – of the German one-day race, the reigning under-23 road race world champion belied his tender age, outfoxing several of the biggest names in sprinting in the hurly-burly of an uncontrolled bunch finish.
A lethargic start
On a scorching hot afternoon in and around German’s second-largest city of Hamburg, with the mercury nudging close to 40ºC, it was perhaps unsurprising that for 190 of the race’s 245.9km the peloton’s tempo resembled that of a Sunday afternoon club ride rather than a WorldTour race. Nonetheless, danger is never far away in professional cycling, with Orica-GreenEDGE losing not one but three riders in crashes: veteran Stuart O’Grady broke four ribs and a collarbone, Daryl Impey also broke ribs and Jens Keukeleire required stitches after sustaining a thigh injury.
The day’s obligatory breakaway comprised three men - Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Nissan), Andreas Dietziker (NetApp) and Gregor Gazvoda (AG2R La Mondiale) – and pulled out a lead of 7½ minutes before the slumbering peloton - driven by Sky, working for defending champion Edvald Boasson Hagen - finally awoke from their slumber and started to reel them in. With a little under 60km to go, BMC’s Marco Pinotti initiated what would become a seven-man attack, catching and passing the original break. They established an advantage of around 30 seconds, lighting the blue touch-paper underneath the pack, who were forced to up the pace significantly to pull them back.
Attack, attack, attack
They were finally brought to heel at the base of the third of four ascents of the Waseberg hill with 29km left, setting the scene for a frantic final 35 minutes or so of racing. The peloton fractured over the summit of the 800-metre, 8.9% climb (which features sections of 15%) as first Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked, and then a dangerous group of about a dozen riders including Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) moved off the front.
In the short hiatus before the final climb up the Waseberg a number of exploratory attacks – notably Boonen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Sep Vanmarcke – were tried, all unsuccessful. At the foot of the climb Sagan suffered an inopportune mechanical, requiring a tiring chase back that effectively ended his victory hopes, while Lampre-ISD tried to up the pace. But the decisive move came from the unheralded Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Nissan), who jumped away over the summit and built an advantage of close to 30 seconds on the main pack, with various chase groups splintering off in between.
It was a brave attack, but one always destined for failure. The Waseberg is a steep climb, but not long enough to do sufficient damage to really enable a solo attacker or small group to build a race-winning advantage. With a downhill/flat run of nearly 15km to the finish, it requires a large group – such as the split of 30-odd riders which got away last year – to maintain any hard-earned advantage as the sprinters’ teams gather momentum. Despite an initial lack of organisation in the chase, Hermans was pulled back with 8km still to run, and after a couple of other counter-attacks the peloton was back together again by the 4km mark, ready to set up a bunch sprint – albeit a scrappy one in which no one team had sufficient numbers to control the run-in.
Under the 1km flag, Argos-Shimano, OPQS and FDJ – working for Tom Veelers, Tom Boonen and Demare respectively – jostled for supremacy. With Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel breathing down his neck, the young Frenchman positioned himself perfectly to pick up the wheel of Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw as he went for a long one. Demare overhauled him with ease and, despite the crowd urging on Greipel to take a home win, held his pace to the line to take victory by two bike lengths. RadioShack’s Giacomo Nizzolo took third, just ahead of the Belgian tricolore-clad Boonen and 2011 winner Boasson Hagen.
Greipel, who dominated the sprints over the first half of the season, will be disappointed to have missed out on victory in the only ‘home’ WorldTour event on the calendar. No German rider has won the race since Erik Zabel in 2001.
However, victory confirms Demare’s good form ahead of next month’s Road World Championships, as well as providing 80 valuable WorldTour points to leapfrog FDJ over their French rivals AG2R in the team rankings. They are still in the bottom three, however, and will likely require the discretion of the UCI to guarantee their place for 2013. Nonetheless, Demare’s victory is a welcome boost for the team to add to Thibaut Pinot and Pierrick Fedrigo‘s stage wins at the Tour de France last month. They will look for more good results over this season’s six remaining WorldTour events, starting with next Sunday’s GP Ouest-France. I wonder if the birthday boy will be allowed to sit that one out, though.
1. Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) 6:03:20
2. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) same time
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t
4. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t
6. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) s/t
7. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp) s/t
8. Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
9. Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) s/t
10. Borut Bozic (Astana) s/t
Link: Official website