The French sprinter (Groupama-FDJ) triumphed in Bellinzona (stage 8) in the jersey of the French national champion.
Tour de Suisse: Do you remember your victory in the 8th stage of the Tour de Suisse 2018 in Bellinzona?
Arnaud Démare: Of course. I never forget a victory; all victories are important to me. But the victories in races at such a high level with so many climbs are always something special. I also achieved this victory after a long dry spell without victories. So he helped me a lot mentally, too. Besides, a few weeks before the Tour de France was also absolutely crucial. It was also one of my last appearances in the French champion’s jersey, because I knew that the 2018 championship race would not bring me another victory.
TdS: The 8th stage in Bellinzona was the only mass arrival at the Tour de Suisse 2018 after a circuit. Isn’t winning the mass sprint a particularly nice thing for a sprinter like you?
TdS: What makes a good sprinter?
AD: This is difficult to answer. Maybe because I can’t tell who is a good sprinter and who is not (laughs).
If you want to ride in the peloton as a sprinter today, I think that concentration and mental strength are important, in other words, endurance in your head. Especially if you like to ride the classics, like me, you often don’t attack until after five or six hours. Then you need to stay focused, be well-positioned and alert. You have to hold back for five hours and then in the four minutes a sprinter has, you have to turn your brain on and give it all you’ve got in that short time. That’s easy to say, but it’s not. Sometimes in the middle of the race you have the feeling that you have lost the connection, that you have been left behind. And yet your brain has to do an insane job to get back at it, regain your place and be in the final. You usually have a whole team behind you.
Perhaps that is what makes a good sprinter: his team. Maybe this is even more important for a sprinter than for a climber. We need good teammates who can get us back to our seats and help us stay awake all day long. We need an excellently functioning train that will take us perfectly into the last metres of the race. The debriefing, the conversation after the race, where we talk about the next or the stage after next, is also very important. At this point I just have to say that I probably have one of the best sprint moves. The drivers around me are extremely important to me.
TdS: Do you sometimes find it difficult to maintain your concentration and mobilise all your energy during a race over so many hours? For your race only the last few kilometres are really decisive.
AD: No, it’s not like that I think that’s one of my greatest assets. As I said before, I love such races and the fight for stamina. I think that I’m quite good at this and that’s probably why I won Milan-Sanremo. If you want to intervene properly at the end of a race, you need to be able to pay attention for five hours before. This is decisive for the race of a sprinter.
TdS: How important is your team for you and your sprint style?
AD: My team is very, very important to me for everything I have said. I don’t know if it’s the same for all sprinters. But I think it has something to do with my personality. I treat my teammates like real life: I’m a family man, I need people I can trust to share everything with. For me, my team members are not colleagues, but my friends, in whom I believe, to whom I entrust many things, who entrust many things to me and with whom I can discuss everything. If the sprint didn’t go well, if they weren’t where I expected them to be, or if I didn’t complete my task, then we’ll talk about it. This is very important so that we can motivate ourselves in more difficult situations.
And it works the same way with the whole team around me. I like to work in a good and familiar atmosphere. This is very important to me.
TdS: You won in Bellinzona in the colours of France. It must be a unique feeling.
TdS: With Milan-Sanremo you won one of the “monuments of cycling” as a rather young rider. Did this increase the pressure to win the Tour de France at home?
AD: In any case, I needed the victory at Milan-Sanremo to build up pressure for the Tour. The Tour de France is a high-pressure machine in itself (laughs). But it’s true. By winning this monument of cycling, I have moved up into the category of riders who must be able to win the big tours. I would like to prove in the future that I did not win the race by chance and that I can call up this performance regularly. And besides, as a Frenchman you always want to win the Tour de France. At this race we always have the audience behind us, especially when we win.
TdS: After the Tour de Suisse, you also achieved victories in the Tour de France last year, three podium places and a stage win in Pau. So was the Tour de Suisse something like a motivating start for you?
AD: Definitely. The Tour de Suisse is always a good preparation for the Tour de France, because you know that the route is very varied and demanding. There are many mountains and other difficult terrain. So you are well prepared for the tour. Thanks to the high level of the race, you can compete with others and show your opponent a few weeks before the Tour de France where the hammer is. A rider who masters the Tour de Suisse well is also good at the Tour de France, that is logical. And as I just mentioned, in addition to preparing my legs, I also needed a prestigious victory to not go into the Tour empty-handed. Therefore, the Tour de Suisse 2018 was not only important for the legs, but also for the head.
TdS: Last summer André Greipel confessed to us that he has special respect for the Swiss mountains. How did you master the mountain stages of the Tour de Suisse?
AD: Of course the mountains are not our favourite terrain, and for the lightweight sprinters the routes of the Tour de Suisse are never really fun. (Laughs.)
But I prepared myself well in advance. I went to a training camp in Gran Canaria in May to train mountains together with my team mates. That helped me a lot. Especially at the Tour de France I had less problems in the mountains. And a few weeks before the Tour de Suisse I did another mountain training in Benicàssim. At the 2018 race, if I remember correctly, there was only one mountain arrival. The other stages were then more for the puncher.
TdS: What are your plans for the 2019 season?
AD: This year I’m not going to participate in the Tour de France, but I’m looking forward to the routes in Italy and the Giro, where I’ve never won a stage before. Although I took part a few years ago, this year I feel fit enough to add an Italian stage to my track record. I’m not sure what comes after that. That depends on the Giro d’Italia and my form, on how I am doing and what the result will be.
In any case, after the Giro I will take part in the French Championship, that’s for sure.
TdS: What successes do you dream of, what victory do you still want to achieve?
AD: I don’t think it surprises anyone that I would like to win Paris-Roubaix. But this race is so unpredictable. You never know what surprises it may hold. But if there’s one victory I really want, it’s this one. The race is very special, especially because it is a home race for me. A driver who wins Paris-Roubaix is a monument in itself.
TdS: Thanks, Arnaud, we wish you a successful season!
AD: Thank you.