In fact, he knew his chances of being first across the line in Messina could only be assured if he made it up and over the short but steep climb.
And the French veteran also knew his chances of victory would be even more greatly enhanced if a few of his sprinter rivals didn’t get over the top with him.
So when the crackle of the race radio revealed that pre-stage favorites Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) were struggling, Démare buried himself.
“I knew it would be difficult today on the climb and the teams were trying to make it hard for the sprinters,” Démare said. “Instead of risking exploding today, I went at my own pace, and I had my entire team around me. We did a very, very fast descent, and were catching groups, and we were able to reconnect with the leaders.”
And once Démare and his FDJ-Groupama teammates were at the front, it was their turn to pile on the speed to make sure Ewan and Cavendish never came back.
“Also on the flat section after the downhill we rode hard,” Démare said. “When we heard that Ewan and Cavendish were off the bike, we had to keep going to stop them coming back.”
Such is the harsh, no-pity world of bunch sprints.
There are only a handful of chances for sprinters in this Giro, and they all come in the first two weeks. With the final week stacked up with climbs, the Giro is over pretty much for all the sprinters by the end of the second week.
So riders like Démare and every other fast finisher had stage 5 marked in their road books.
In fact, Démare won here in 2020, after making it over the same climb on a very similar course. In that Giro, Démare rattled off one big Giro stage victory after another.
This year, Démare’s been struggling to find the wins. In fact, he was winless this season until he out-kicked Fernando Gaviria and Giacomo Nizzolo to take his first of 2020.
“Any sprinter likes to win, and win often,” Démare said. “It didn’t happen for me since Paris-Tours last year, and since the beginning of the year I felt good but I did not win. When I raised my arms up in the air today, only five seconds later that I felt a big relief.”
Will one win feed another? It’s hard to say.
There are few more chances this week before the grueling stage 7 and the Blockhaus summit Sunday.
“Today was a day for us to win,” Démare said. “We knew it was a good chance, and once you win once, it only builds your confidence.”
It might not be so easy next time if Ewan and Cavendish are back in the mix.