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.

European national road race championship round-up

New French champion Nacer Bouhanni (image courtesy of nacerbouhanni.free.fr)

“Today is the happiest day of my life!” beamed Nacer Bouhanni on winning his first national championship, with new Belgian champ Tom Boonen describing the win as “something special”. For cycling geeks worldwide this single weekend of racing is almost as exciting and intriguing as the rather better publicised three-weeker which it precedes.

Not only does the race determine national champions and give riders a nice addition to their palmares, but also the right to wear their national colours for the year. The likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have all won their respective championships and have had the honour to be the sole rider in the peloton flying their national flag.

The excitement is heightened by the fact that the races are purely one-day affairs, and therefore every rider in the peloton can dream of donning their nation’s colours, particularly in sprint finishes and unpredictable weather conditions. While riders tend to participate in their usual teams, it often boils down to ‘every man for himself’ nearer the finish.

Below is a quick round-up of the most noteworthy of this weekend’s national champions.

France – Nacer Bouhanni

21-year old Nacer Bouhanni‘s remarkable start to the season has excited French cycling fans greatly, reinforcing his potential by taking the tricolore. But one Frenchman who may not be so delighted is his FDJ-BigMat teammate Arnaud Demare, who he narrowly pipped to the line in an exciting sprint finish after 256.2km in miserable conditions.

Bouhanni gave an infectiously enthusiastic interview after the race, where he described it as “the happiest day of my life!” He didn’t however express great sympathy for his teammate who so narrowly missed out:

We like each other, but in a finish like this, things are clear. The strongest wins.

Belgium – Tom Boonen

Like Bouhanni, Tom Boonen continued the best start to a season of his career (albeit a rather longer career) with another win, as he rode away to take his second national title. Boonen – who has won the two great Classics Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix this season – sprinted out of a five-man breakaway to take the victory, with AG2R’s Kristof Goddaert narrowly behind.

Boonen, who targeted this championship along with the Olympic road race, said he was “overjoyed”:

This was a real goal, I am overjoyed. The Belgian champion’s jersey is still a highly respected one in the peloton. Each life has its ups and downs. Now, I have my share of bad luck behind me. This year, it’s going good. I have to try and harvest the fruit of my hard work and aim at the last targets of this year.

Netherlands – Niki Terpstra

Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra took his second Dutch title, this time in emphatic fashion after going solo with 40km remaining. He finished over two minutes ahead of Rabobank’s Lars Boom, in another of the many races run in grim conditions.

Terpstra said that he “surprised” himself with his performance:

I’m happy about my performance. I have to say that I surprised myself. We were in a little group and I tried to accelerate to split the group and make it smaller but I remained alone. At that point I took the risk and I did a time trial. I like these kinds of races with bad weather conditions. It’s my second title, and the first win was great, but this one, with a solo ride, is even better!

Italy – Franco Pellizotti

Franco Pellizotti got his return from a two-year ban off to an excellent start, as he claimed the Italian title in Borgo Valsugana. The Androni Giocattoli rider attacked as the final 13km loop began, and won by a mammoth 27 seconds. Danilo Di Luca (Acqua & Sapone) and Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished second and third respectively.

Pellizotti emphasised the significance of the national championships after the race, describing it as his “number one goal” adding:

At 400 metres to go, I knew I’d won and was able to enjoy it. I wish that it could have never ended. I must thank Androni for the great trust they have shown in me. After they confirmed my appointment I was able to train in the best possible way for this race.

Great Britain – Ian Stannard

As we have come to expect, Sky dominated the British national championships, with Ian Stannard and Alex Dowsett taking a one-two. Former winners Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas chose to concentrate on Tour de France/Olympics preparation along with Mark Cavendish, missing the event in North Yorkshire.

Stannard rode to the finish alone, attacking out of a breakaway which included teammate Dowsett. After the win, he reflected on the honour of wearing the red, white and blue:

It’s really nice to keep [the jersey] in the team. There’s been so many great riders wear it over the years. It will be really cool to ride the Classics and just race in it. That will be really special.

Luxembourg – Laurent Didier

There was a shock at the Luxembourg national championships as Frank Schleck – seemingly constantly donning his national colours – was beaten by RadioShack-Nissan teammate Laurent Didier in rainy conditions.

Schleck attacked out of a break of nine first, but AG2R’s Ben Gastauer stayed locked onto his wheel. Didier and Schleck then proceeded to trade attacks in a bid to break Gastauer, with Didier eventually wriggling free. Gastauer came across in second place, with Schleck third.

Didier spoke about his first victory as a professional:

I’m incredibly happy with this result. It’s my first pro victory and pro title, so I’m really happy. It’s an honour to wear the colours of your country.

Germany – Fabian Wegmann

Garmin-Sharp’s Fabian Wegmann won his third German national title and his first race in two years in a sprint finish, with RadioShack’s Linus Gerdemann and Leopard-Trek CT’s Julian Kern second and third respectively. A relieved Wegmann described his feelings:

I didn’t win a race last year, so this is huge. I have already seen that I am on track, but as an individual competitor, of course it’s difficult. I played a game of poker and then put everything on the sprint.  I knew, because I was the fastest.

In brief

Below is a simple list of most – but not all – of the current national champions:

Australia: Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Belgium: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Canada: Ryan Roth (SpiderTech-C10)

Croatia: Vladimir Miholjevic (Acqua & Sapone)

Czech Republic: Milan Kadlec (ASC Dukla Prague)

Denmark: Sebastian Lander (Glud & Marstrand)

Estonia: Tanel Kangert (Astana)

France: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat)

Germany: Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp)

Great Britain: Ian Stannard (Sky)

Ireland: Matthew Brammeier (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Italy: Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli)

Kazakhstan: Assan Bazayev (Astana)

Latvia: Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis)

Luxembourg: Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Nissan)

Moldova: Alexandr Pliuschin (Leopard)

Netherlands: Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Norway: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)

Poland: Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Russia: Eduard Vorganov (Katusha)

Slovakia: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

South Africa: Robert Hunter (Garmin-Sharp)

Spain: Francisco Ventoso (Movistar)

Switzerland: Martin Kohler (BMC)

Ukraine: Andriy Grivko (Astana)

USA: Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Team updates: BMC, Euskaltel-Euskadi, FDJ-BigMat and GreenEDGE

At the beginning of the season, each member of the VeloVoices team selected one ProTeam to follow for the duration of 2012. Here’s an update on how each squad is progressing as the peloton starts to move out of tune-up mode and into the first slug of major races for this year: the spring Classics and Paris-Nice.
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