Bouhanni: Dauphine third place is like a victory

Frenchman gains confidence from first bunch sprint since Yorkshire crash

Rarely does anything other than the top step of the podium satisfy a sprinter, but Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) said his third place on stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné felt as good as a victory.

The Dauphiné is the Frenchman's first race back since suffering cranial trauma in a Tour de Yorkshire crash at the end of April, and he described himself as pessimistic about his chances in the Tour de France build-up race. He described it as a 'big relief' just to get through the opening stage, despite being dropped on the hilly route – albeit with some of the other sprinters.

With the Tour de France less than a month away, Monday's bunch finish was a chance for him to truly test himself. He took the wheel of former teammate Arnaud Démare, and while there was no overhauling the FDJ rider as the road pitched up in the final 200 metres, he produced a strong sprint and was just pipped for second by Alexander Kristoff.

"For me, this is like a victory, even if third clearly isn't. Just being able to figure in the sprint, to be there at the end, it bodes well for what's to come this season," Bouhanni told a small group of reporters from the steps of the Cofidis team bus in Arlanc.

"It's reassuring. If you'd have told me that, in the first bunch sprint after my crash, at a race like the Dauphiné, I'd be third, I'd have signed for it. I was pessimistic even up until yesterday."

Just as important as the sprint was what came before it, with four categorised climbs, totalling nearly 1,500 metres of total altitude gain, in the opening half of the stage. Démare was even dropped on the second-category Col de Verrières-en-Forez.

"It was a hard day again today. I hung on as best I could on the climbs, and I managed to stay with the peloton, so I had better legs than yesterday. That's a good sign for what's to come," he said.

"Concerning the sprint, I was well-placed but a bit blocked with 300 metres to go, but I wound up my effort in the last 150 metres, and I had to ground to make up. I overtook three or four riders, but it was already too far to contest the victory."

Monday's outing from Saint-Chamond to Arlanc was the first of three opportunities for the sprinters at this year's Dauphiné, with even flatter routes greeting the riders on Tuesday's stage 3 and Thursday's stage 5.

"They may be a bit better for me, but we'll see. I'm not putting pressure on myself here at the Dauphiné," Bouhanni said.

"It's about getting the kilometres in, rediscovering the sensations and trying to find my top level. I can see now I have a good condition, but I know I still have some more steps to take to get to the top." 

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