Bouhanni finds form just ahead of Milan-San Remo

Cofidis sprinter bounces back from Paris-Nice disappointment to take first 2017 win in Nokere Koerse

Nacer Bouhanni staked his claim to being counted among the favourites for Saturday's Milan-San Remo with a dominating display of sprinting prowess to win Nokere Koerse-Danilith Classic on Wednesday.

The Cofidis sprinter easily won the bunch kick at the end of the 192.2km 1.HC race in Belgium, leading through the final right-hand turn and then extending his lead over the last 100 metres to win by half a dozen bike lengths.

"I am happy to win my first race of the season," Bouhanni said. "I had a lot of second or third places since the beginning of the year."

The timing couldn't be better for the 26-year-old Frenchman ahead of Saturday's Milan-San Remo after he had to abandon Paris-Nice earlier this month. He started his season in Spain with third at the Trofeo Palma, then scored two second-place finishes at Volta a la Valenciana.

Bouhanni hit the podium again at Volta ao Algarve, finishing third behind Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) on the opening stage, but the first win of 2017 had eluded him until Wednesday.

When two consecutive days of cold, windy weather at Paris-Nice caused him to abandon on the second stage, the rider who was sixth in his Milan-San Remo debut in 2015 and fourth last year despite suffering a mechanical in the final kilometre suddenly began to fall out of conversations about potential favourites.

Although the Nokere win happened in the absence of any other Milan-San Remo favourites, Bouhanni's impressive performance could be a shot across the bow to the other contenders for Saturday.

"Nacer's win in Nokere Koerse is good news three days from Milan-San Remo," said Cofidis General Manager Yvon Sanquer. "He was the strongest. His adversaries were not on the WorldTour level, but it's never easy to win, especially in Belgium. This rewards the work Nacer has done in training since his retirement from Paris-Nice."

But one of Bouhanni's victims on Wednesday, runner-up Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport), wasn't ready to buy into the idea that Bouhanni was a favourite for La Primavera.

"No, I don't think so," the British road champion said. "Not against Sagan, no. I think Sagan is – not unbeatable – but it's going to be hard to beat him, yeah."

For his own part, Bouhanni wasn't making any predictions about Saturday other than to say he'd be ready.

"I'll be ready for Milan-San Remo," he said. "But I will not announce an objective. I will see Saturday." 

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