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Nacer Bouhanni on the podium
Frenchman envisages "five or six" sprints at the Vuelta
Opting to change teams has sometimes been a sure-fire way to miss out on selection for the Vuelta a España. Back in 1995, for instance, Fernando Escartin was unceremoniously dumped from the Mapei squad after he signed on the dotted line with Kelme.
More recently, in 2011, Thor Hushovd found himself sidelined by Garmin to stop him from carrying any additional WorldTour points to his new team, BMC, and a similar fate befell Jakob Fuglsang at RadioShack the following year.
When Nacer Bouhanni's long-touted transfer to Cofidis was confirmed earlier in the summer, many assumed that the Frenchman, like others before him, would be marginalised for the remainder of the year. Refreshingly, however, FDJ.fr's management has instead made good on its promise to send Bouhanni to the Vuelta as recompense for giving the nod for Tour de France selection to Arnaud Démare.
"No, it's not been difficult at all, they've been very straight and correct with me about that," Bouhanni told Cyclingnews in Jerez de la Frontera. "My race programme hasn't changed because of the transfer, it's the same as it was always going to be if I didn't go to the Tour. I've gone to the Eneco Tour and the Vuelta as planned."
The Vuelta, Bouhanni confirmed, will be his final race in the blue jersey of FDJ.fr (he will not ride Paris-Tours) and the Épinal native aims to end his four years with Marc Madiot's squad on something of a high. May's Giro d'Italia saw Bouhanni open his account in the Grand Tours with three stage victories, and even amid the Vuelta's usual desert of uphill finishes, he envisages "five or six" oases where the sprinters will be able to sate their thirst, starting with Sunday's second stage to San Fernando.
"Winning one stage would be a good start, but obviously, if you win one, you want two, and if you get two, you want a third and so on," Bouhanni said. "But if I could win at least one stage, I'd be happy."
Bouhanni is among the very fastest men in the field and he underlined his form by claiming his ninth win of the season at the Eneco Tour earlier this month. That status confers a certain responsibility on his FDJ.fr team to manage the race, although Bouhanni believes that he will have enough allies of circumstances on those few, flat days, pointing to the presence of Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb, who dominated the sprints here in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
"There are some other good sprinters at the Vuelta – there's Sagan, Degenkolb, Michael Matthews, [Andrea] Guardini, Tom Boonen," he said. "There are quite a few other teams who will want to ride for bunch sprints on those stages too. For us, certainly, the objective will be control the race on the flat days but I think there'll be other teams who'll want to do the same thing."
While the quietly-spoken Bouhanni made clear his initial disenchantment at missing out on the Tour de France, he has since been markedly stoical in his acceptance of the decision. Rather than linger on the disappointment, he preferred to look ahead to 2014, when he will line up at the Grande Boucle with a dedicated sprint train at his disposal.
"It was hard but it was the team's decision and I respected it," Bouhanni said precisely. "I'll be at the Tour de France next year, so we'll see then."
Cofidis already possess a lead-out man of note in Adrien Petit, but have augmented Bouhanni's support further by securing the services of his current teammate Geoffroy Soupe and former colleagues Steve Chainel and Dominque Rollin, who returns to the peloton after spending 2014 without a contract.
"I'll have four riders in the train for me, and we'll get to work right from the first races of the season to get it right. In any case, they're riders that I know well, and I already have a good understanding with them," said Bouhanni.
As well as returning to the Tour, 2015 will also see Bouhanni tackle the classics, having been largely overlooked in favour of Démare on that terrain during his time at FDJ. "With the Pompeiana, Milan-San Remo's going to be more difficult for sprinters now, so I'd place Gent-Wevelgem ahead of it as an objective for the classics," he said.
2015 seems decidedly virtual for now, however, and like all pure sprinters, Bouhanni's thoughts are fixed primarily on the location of his next win. He has three weeks in which to seek a victory to sustain him through the winter months. "I'm concentrated 100 percent on the sprints here and from Sunday on, I'm looking to win a stage," he said.