French sprinters Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) are set to clash in the sprint finishes at the Circuit de la Sarthe stage race this week as they look to add further victories to their palmares.
The four-day, five-stage race should offer three opportunities for the sprinters, with the overall classification decided in the 6.8km time trial on Wednesday afternoon and the hilly final stage to La Ferté Bernard on Friday.
Bouhanni and Coquard have won three races each this season and are vying for supremacy in the French sprints. Bouhanni has won at the Etoile des Bessèges, Paris-Nice and Critérium International, while Coquard has won on French roads, taking two stages at the Etoile des Bessèges and the recent Route Adélie one-day race.
Coquard will only turn 22 on April 25th but was 13th at Gent-Wevelgem and has notched up a series of placing at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice.
"Every race is a chance to prove what I can do and my recent win in Vitré (the Route Adélie) has given me the confidence to take advantage of this upwards spiral of success," he told L'Equipe before starting stage one of the Circuit de la Sarthe on Tuesday.
Bouhanni was disappointed not to be FDJ.fr's sprinter for Milan-San Remo and vented his anger by winning the opening stage at the Criterium International. While rival sprinter Arnaud Demare is focused on the spring Classics, Bouhanni is hoping to win a many sprints as possible to boost his chances of being FDJ.fr's protected sprinter for the Tour de France.
"There are two, if not three stages that offer great chances for sprints," he told L'Equipe. We shouldn't let them slip our grasp. I'm confident and want to keep on winning."
Coquard will have support from Thomas Voeckler, who opted to ride the Circuit de la Sarthe instead of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Other sprinters to watch for include Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar).