Why Arnaud Demare could be the next French winner of Paris-Roubaix
Midway through the Groupama-FDJ press conference, team manager Marc Madiot’s phone went off. He was quick to stop his ringtone, but the song playing was unmistakable: it was the swaggering opening riff of the Rolling Stones hit, Satisfaction.
It’s a fitting tune for both his team and French cycling, considering that their last winner at Paris-Roubaix came in 1997, when Frédéric Guesdon surprised the favourites in a small group sprint. It’s been a long time since they had satisfaction in their home Monument.
Back then, Arnaud Démare was only five years old. Now, the French champion is the outstanding home hopeful – not that he is particularly bothered about nationality. “Being French doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “If you want to win, there’s 200 on the start line. You’ve got to beat everyone.”
“I’m confident. Since the start of the season, I’ve been going well,” he says. Third places in Milan-Sanremo and Ghent-Wevelgem in recent weeks confirm that, and the 26-year-old is looking ahead to the Monument where he finished sixth last year. “Paris-Roubaix is more made for me than the Tour of Flanders. All the lights are green, unlike yesterday,” the Frenchman said, referring with a smile to his Scheldeprijs disqualification for jumping a level crossing.
“Paris-Roubaix makes me dream. As for Fred, we still talk about his victory at Roubaix 20 years later so clearly, the moment you win the race, you become a legend for life.”
Arnaud Demare leads FDJ at the 2017 Tro Bro Leon
Photo: Presse Sports / Offside
With Guesdon and 1985 & 91’ champion Madiot calling the shots from the team cars, it’s no surprise that the Picard dubs them a dream team. For his part, Madiot mentioned the importance of not having regrets after Paris-Roubaix: “You have to be humble towards the race … and not find yourself in a situation to play for the win and then say ‘damn, if only I’d worked harder in training or done this or that, I’d be going all the way for victory.’”
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“People can have done everything well and be at the top of their game before the race, and it can come to nought on the day due to circumstances being against you … I know that well. One year with Renault, we had five or six riders in the front group at the entrance to Arenberg and by the end of the sector, there was only one left.”
Madiot the boiler
What else can this decorated duo of director sportifs offer? Aside from their vast knowledge and passion for the Hell of the North, there might be another one of Madiot’s infamous motivational speeches brewing. He is known for stirring up his troops by getting them to sing La Marseillaise before various Bastille Day stages of the Tour de France.
“He is really like a boiler,” says Jacopo Guarnieri, Démare’s tall Italian lieutenant at Groupama-FDJ. “He starts talking, and then he gets hotter and hotter and hotter until he’s really almost shouting.
“It was funny when I first joined the team in November  and didn’t speak French. Madiot did this speech and [team-mate Ignatas] Konovalovas, who spoke French and English, said to me: ‘you will not understand much, he seems angry, but he’s not, actually.’ Because he was speaking really loud; it was like in a sports movie about a legendary trainer. For me at least, it works. Last year for example, we had a not so nice Het Volk and he gave a speech to us before Kuurne. It gives you a lot of motivation.”
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“You see he’s passionate for the sport, he loves aggressive riders. I think he cares more about the mentality we have than results. Of course, when you have a certain mentality, the results come, like in Sanremo or Flanders [where Démare was 15th]. Even if we didn’t win, he was really proud of us. You can see he really loves when we ride aggressively, he always says ‘not the reaction, but the action.’ I agree, especially in these races.”
Paris-Roubaix is Guarnieri’s favourite race of the year, though he appreciates the strangeness of loving this cobbled Classic: “It has nothing to do with a normal bike race. Even when you do it in training, it’s not the same thing. You enter the cobbles so fast and with the crowd, you have the noise from the riders, the frame, the bikes. It’s pure adrenaline. On the cobbles, you feel nothing. You just want to go as fast as you can and it’s really something special.”
Follow the leader
So, can French cycling get their Roubaix satisfaction? Can Démare win? “Of course,” Guarnieri says, pointing to a slight reduction in the sprinter’s spring racing campaign this season. “He’s found his shape and he’s keeping it. Last year, he was very tired and he was sixth [at Roubaix], not in the front group but just behind. I think he is much fresher in mind and body this season.”
“As a leader, he’s not changed a lot but he’s grown up in the last year and a half. I’ve seen him taking it step by step to understand his role, realising more and more how strong he is and how important he is inside the team. Things like that change his mentality a lot.”
“As we’ve seen, Quick Step are one step over the others, but we can play. It’s a really unpredictable race and he can be among the favourites. We hope he can deliver.”
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