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Nacer Bouhanni takes his third stage victory of the Giro d'Italia
Frenchman claims third win in Salsomaggiore
Their styles are very different but their dominance is equivalent. When Marcel Kittel bade his early and sudden farewell to the Giro d’Italia, received wisdom suggested that the bunch sprints would become more even affairs, but instead FDJ.fr's Nacer Bouhanni has assumed the mantle and imposed his own law on the peloton.
Kittel’s two victories in Ireland were all about his prodigious power output and his ability to sprint from distance, building speed gradually and burning off his rivals. Bouhanni – his long, long effort in Bari notwithstanding – is closer in style to Mark Cavendish, and the former boxer relies primarily on a knockout change of pace inside the final 100 metres that leaves his rivals dazed.
"It's a huge compliment for people to suggest that, but Cav is a great sprinter. I've got a lot of respect for what he's done in his career. Cav is Cav and I'm Bouhanni," the Frenchman said after landing his third sprint victory of this Giro by unfurling a typically crisp finish in Salsomaggiore Terme at the end of Stage 10. The win was all the more impressive given that Bouhanni had been forced to make up considerable ground in the finale due to the effects of Sky’s pressing in the closing kilometres.
Bouhanni’s penchant for training like a boxer as part of his winter regimen and his juvenile exploits in the sweet science have been a curiosity since his first pedal strokes as a professional in 2010, but his most devastating punch is the one he delivers within sight of the finishing line. Just as Cavendish has claimed that he had little need of specific sprint training, Bouhanni told reporters on Tuesday that his turn of speed was simply a natural trait.
"You can work on certain qualities but I've always been pretty explosive anyway, and over the years, I've progressed. But I just train and look to improve," said Bouhanni, whose pre-Giro programme was focused as much on surviving the high mountains as negotiating the cut and thrust of the sprint finishes.
"In my head, the Giro was always an objective, so I took four or five days off the bike after winning the GP de Denain and then I went and trained in the mountains. I worked hard to be ready for the Giro and I feel in great form now."
Tuesday's finale was a technical one, but after working his way up through the bunch, Bouhanni was smartly placed in the final kilometre and avoided the crash that brought down Tyler Farrar and Elia Viviani. Although Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) gamely looked to anticipate the Frenchman, Bouhanni landed a devastating combination in the final 150 metres to take the win and cement his hold on the red points jersey. Fittingly for a man with a background in the ring, he leads the Giro's "Fighting Spirit" combativity classification to boot.
Bouhanni is not the type to make bold declarations, however – with each passing press conference, Mike Tyson seems an increasingly unlikely sporting idol for the softly-spoken Épinal native – and he was quick to downplay any suggestion that he was operating on another level to his rivals in the bunch finishes.
"I've said it before, all of the sprinters here are still dangerous. You can’t underestimate anyone," said Bouhanni, who also noted that carrying the red jersey all the way to Trieste was now a major objective. "Stage 13 should be the next sprint and I want to take this jersey to the finish, that’s as important as winning a fourth stage."
Bouhanni will hope, too, that he is listed in FDJ.fr’s Tour de France line-up when Marc Madiot announces his roster at the French championships the week before the start in Leeds. Twelve months ago, he got the nod ahead of Arnaud Démare for La Grande Boucle, but the situation was reversed for Milan-San Remo this spring, to Bouhanni’s disappointment.
"I hope I’ll be there," Bouhanni said of the Tour. "But right now I'm concentrating on the Giro."