Happy birthday Arnaud Demare

A thoughful young Arnaud Demare (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

Arnaud Démare is 21 years old today – bon anniversaire!

Yes, that’s right. The winner of last weekend’s Vattenfall Cyclassics is only 21 years old today. Moreover, he’s the first Frenchman to win a Classic since Frederic Guesdon won Paris-Tours in 2006. At VeloVoices we talked during the Tour of the impressive debuts of the 1990 generation –  Arnaud’s FDJ-BigMat teammate and compatriot Thibaut Pinot and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) – and here’s another one, albeit born a year later.

I first met Arnaud at the 2010 World Championships in Melbourne where, aged 19, he finished a very creditable fifth in the under-23 road race – having been runner-up in the junior worlds the previous year. I’ve kept an eye on his frankly meteoric progress ever since. I’m not the only one. He’s won the prestigious Velo d’Or in his category for three straight years – 2009 to 2011. Last year he won the under-23 World Championships road race with teammate Adrien Petit  – now a neo-pro at Cofidis – finishing in the runner-up spot. Arnaud was already a stagiare at FDJ whom he joined at the start of this year with the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders – and he didn’t disappoint.

He got quickly off the mark by winning the sixth and final stage in the Tour of Qatar, besting riders of the calibre of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quick-Step), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) and Mark Cavendish (Sky). Neo-pro Arnaud took up the final sprint early but his shrewd tactics paid dividends as he crossed the line to record his first professional victory. Once past the finish, he called his mother to let her know he’d won his maiden professional race. Her reply was an incredulous “already?”.

Afterwards he said:

I was placed in ideal conditions in the last couple of kilometres with the help of my teammates. It’s an amazing feeling. Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar came to congratulate me. I have admired them in front of my TV for so long.

What is it with French riders and tongues? (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

Thereafter, he finished fourth in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and three days later won Le Samyn. He continued his winning ways in Belgium with a stage win in the Trois Jours de Flandre-Occidentale. His first victory on French soil followed in the Cholet-Pays de Loire. An injured thumb kept him out of Paris-Roubaix but he returned to competition in mid-April with a couple of top five placings.

He then took part in the Giro d’Italia where he caught the eye of none other than Mark Cavendish when he finished fourth on stage three and recorded three top ten finishes before abandoning on stage 14. Arnaud had naturally been very impressed with the way Cavendish had taken his sprint victories and the speed at which he’d won them – in excess of 74kph. This was all part of his steep learning curve and he confirmed he’ll be looking to emulate Cav within the next two years.

In June he added to his palmares with a stage in the Route du Sud and was runner-up to teammate and fellow sprinter Nacer Bouhanni at Halle-Ingooigem. Four days later, Bouhanni got the better of him once again when Arnaud, launching his sprint a tad too early, finished second in the French national road race championships.

His performances this year meant he caught the eye of French team selector Laurent Jalabert who picked him for the French Olympic road race team. He finished 30th in London but three weeks later demonstrated his growing maturity by winning the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg. After the race Arnaud was keen to downplay expectations:

I know there was a lot expected of me but I must repeat that I am still young. I had a great start to the season before falling in the Three Days of De Panne. Then I took part in my first Grand Tour and it took me some time to recover. Then there was the French Championship, it’s a lot to digest … Yes, It’s been hard! I have worked hard in July in the Tour of Poland and the Olympic Games, but it’s done me good and now I win a big race.

Tom Boonen, who finished fourth, paid tribute to Arnaud saying he was a rider of great talent. Here at VeloVoices we’re in agreement, keep a look out for him in a series of one-day races on French soil starting with today’s GP Ouest-France.

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