Grand-Champ (France) (AFP)

Arnaud Démare did not stall. Announced as the man to beat at the French Championships on Sunday, he responded to the fireworks of Julian Alaphilippe in the final to put on a third blue-white-red jersey and return his good to Groupama-FDJ who is piling up a 7th title since 2012.

"The favorite sign has happened to me before. It's no more embarrassing than that," the Groupama-FDJ sprinter had swept away the day before. Arnaud Démare demonstrated on Sunday that the confidence that transpired from his words was not excessive.

The Milan-Sanremo 2016 winner did not need a massive sprint to carve out a third dimension on his record. With three tricolor jerseys (after 2014 and 2017), + Nono + joins a name in the cycling imagination, Jean Stablinski, the only courier since the post-war crowned at least three times champion of France (four in total, a record).

In the days preceding the race, he feared a man, the hero of the 2019 Tour, Julian Alaphilippe. "We will have to anticipate because when he starts his attack, it could be fatal for me, feared the sprinter in an interview with Direct Vélo. Even in great shape, I'm not sure I can follow him."

- The flight of Alaphilippe -

And indeed, he could not when + Alaf + flew four kilometers from the finish in the last bump of the 18 km circuit in the Breton hinterland, between fields and houses of flat stone and slate from the village of Grand-Champ.

But he managed to keep the puncher in his sights and get along with fellow sprinter Bryan Coquard after coming back on him.

The duo, back on Alaphilippe by force of relay, made speak its speed in the last hectometers. And in the game of raw power, Arnaud Démare, on a cloud since August, was the strongest of the three. Coquard, the second.

For 4th place, Clément Venturini settled the sprint, 5 seconds behind the trio, ahead of Anthony Turgis and Rudy Molard.

Démare, double stage winner in the Tour but absent in a week of the Great Loop where his team is betting everything on Thibaut Pinot, was the "favorite N.1" by the confession of the defending champion Warren Barguil.

After raising his arms in front of the top names in the world sprint in Milan-Turin, Démare had ridden in the Tour de Wallonie. And his response to Philippe Gilbert's violent acceleration in the last kilometer of the last stage, which he added to his list of achievements, announced thighs ready to follow, or almost, Alaphilippe.

- "The year of revenge" -

His Groupama-FDJ formation perfectly padlocked the race on Sunday. "For me 2020, it will be the year of revenge. We want to take over the coat in the team," announced his boss Marc Madiot.

His men held in check the escapees and groups of cons who tried all day to blow up the Groupama-FDJ lock. And when after the general regrouping at 7.5 km, Florian Sénéchal broke the peloton to pieces to prepare an offensive by his leader + Alaf +, Démare, protected all day, was on the right wheels to be able to switch to the top of the last bump within reach of the man with the fourteen yellow jerseys.

"We stayed together very strong, we knew how to keep the tempo", savored the new triple champion of France in the mixed zone, saluting the "enormous work and solidarity" of his team.

© 2020 AFP