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'He blows us away race after race' – Laurence Pithie continues to impress at Paris-Nice

Laurence Pithie is at that point in his career where it would be understandable if he was still finding his feet, but the 21-year-old from New Zealand just keeps proving how solid his footing already is as he continues to push the limits during his second season in the professional ranks.

After starting the year with a strong showing at the Tour Down Under, as he secured top five spots on three stages, he then quickly went on to take his first WorldTour win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Plus the Groupama FDJ rider has kept the momentum rolling in Europe, first with an impressive break at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and now at WorldTour stage race Paris-Nice.

Pithie stepped up onto the podium with third on the opening stage in Les Mureaux, capitalising on his sprint prowess after a tough race day, but stage 2, in theory at least, was set to be a tougher ask.

“On paper, the stage suited us much less than yesterday, because we know that Laurence likes to sprint when the stage is tough beforehand, sports director Benoît Vaugrenard said in a team statement after the second stage of the eight day race. “Due to the weather conditions, it wasn’t so today … There wasn’t any proper racing, so a lot of riders were still fresh in the final.” 

Regardless, the French team – which also contains David Gaudu as its ultimate overall contender – was willing to commit to Pithie against plenty of more experienced rivals in the strong field at the European WorldTour stage race. While they didn’t have the big sprint train of others, the team helped Pithie get into position so he could pick his way through to find a crucial wheel at the front.

“It was a pretty hectic final. You had all the trains on this wide road. It was hard to pick which side to go on to be honest,” said Pithie. “I didn’t have so many teammates, but they really all found me at the right time, one by one, to move me up. 

“When I came back to the left, I managed to find Sven-Erik and he did a great job keeping me in the front at a very crucial moment. He was able to put me in a good position, and once we came through that corner with 1800 metres to go, I was in good position behind the Tudor train. From there it was just about staying calm and waiting for the right moment.”

Pithie clung to and then tried to shift out from the wheel of Arvid de Kleijn (Tudor Pro Cycling), but couldn’t come through to overcome the stage winner. Still he was able to hold his second place by fending off the charge of Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla).

“Of course, you’re always fighting for the win, and it’s a bit disappointing to come second, but De Kleijn was very fast today,” said Pithie. 

There was however consolation for the rider who is clearly driven to try and keep challenging himself to keep stepping up, as second was enough to shift Pithie from fourth overall to the very top of the GC leaderboard. He could now add a day in the yellow leader’s jersey of the French WorldTour race to his early season achievements.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting that this morning. I’m super happy to be wearing the yellow jersey at such a prestigious race,” said Pithie. “This season just keeps getting better. I definitely surprise myself. It’s really high level here, and I take each stage as a new experience. It’s great learning for the future.”

Though, the rider who started with the Groupama FDJ development squad in 2021 and then shifted up to the Groupama FDJ WorldTour team last season, has clearly picked up plenty along the way already

“He comes from the track, he has a lot of background for positioning,” said Vaugrenard. “Already yesterday, he made no mistakes. Even today, he makes no mistakes. He knows how to get the timing right.

“We thought it was going to be harder for him today, knowing that there is a big field of sprinters, but he still managed to deliver a nice sprint. He blows us away race after race.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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