An expected bunch sprint finish at Paris-Bourges delivered Arnaud Démare (Arkéa-Samsic) to the victory, with the Frenchman beating Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) and Paul Penhoët (Groupama-FDJ) to the finish line at the end of the 198km race.
The 1.1 one-day race has long been one for the fastmen, and it was the case once more on Thursday, despite the day’s breakaway putting up a valiant fight until the final 2.5km.
After the trio, which included Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Deceuninck), was brought back, it was up to the sprinters after a variety of teams had put in work on the front.
At the line, it was a head-to-head battle between several of the peloton’s quickest finishers, with Démare prevailing for his second win in Arkéa colours. The 32-year-old finished just ahead of De Lie on his left, Penhoët on his right, and Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) alongside De Lie.
The young Belgian almost lost control of his bike heading across the line, though just about managed to keep things upright for second place. However, behind him, Arne Marit (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) was unable to avoid a collision and hit the ground as he came home for sixth place.
The first hour of race had seen the day’s break form with five others – Danny van der Tuuk (Kern Pharma), Enekoitz Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maximilien Juillard (Van Rysel-Roubaix Lille Métropole), and the Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur duo of Paul Hennequin and Larry Valvasori – joining De Bondt in the move.
The group was kept on a tight leash by the sprinter’s teams for the bulk of the four-and-a-half-hour day in the saddle, not being allowed more than 3:30 in the lead.
Back in the peloton, it was no surprise to see the likes of Lotto-Dstny, Lidl-Trek, Arkéa-Samsic, and Bora-Hansgrohe doing much of the work on the front. The teams sought to control the break’s advantage and keep their sprinters safe over the hilly mid-section of the race.
In the end, the peloton passed the trickier parts of the day intact, leaving a furious chase over the final run to the line.
The gap hit the minute mark with 20km to go as Hennequin and Valvasori dropped back early. Slowly but surely, and despite a huge effort from the remaining quartet, the seconds ebbed away as the inevitability of a sprint finish increased.
De Bondt, Azparren, and Juillard were the last men standing from the move, battling on into the final 3km before giving way to the inevitable.
Lotto and Bora commanded the front of the peloton from that point…