Nacer Bouhanni says that his top priority for 2015 will be a spot in the team, and stage wins, at next year's Tour de France. The French sprinter abandoned during his debut in 2013 and missed out on selection this season, after he was passed up in favour of Arnaud Démare.
"This will be the number one goal. But in view of the Tour de France, it is important to have victories. That's what drives me win races," Bouhanni told the website Velocrono. "I'm doing full seasons from February to October, but the Tour is a big piece of the pie… I know what I have to do, the important thing is to get there, and that's all. I'm a sprinter, I'm here to win races."
If Bouhanni were to win a stage this July, it would be the first for Cofidis since 2008 when Sylvain Chavanel and Samuel Dumoulin secured a stage each. For Bouhanni himself, it would be a personal achievement, as he would become one of the few riders to win stages in all three Grand Tours – he took three stage wins at the 2014 Giro d'Italia and two at the Vuelta in August.
Bouhanni will move down to ProContinental level with Cofidis next year, despite posting his most impressive season since turning professional five years ago. The 24-year-old added a points jersey to his three stage wins at the Giro, plus wins at Paris-Nice and Criterium International. With almost guaranteed spots at the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España, and all of the major French races, Bouhanni is confident that he won't feel the effects of stepping down a level.
"It just Milan-San Remo there, where were still awaiting an invitation from RCS Sport, but we have high hopes. Otherwise, the rest of the season, it will not change much," he said. "At the start of the season: I will ride the Tour of Qatar and I will do the Tour of Oman, then, Paris-Nice and the first classics, with Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem. After the first block, the second will be really focused on the Tour de France."
Along with Bouhanni, Cofidis took on a number of his current and former teammates, plus a few others, at the 24-year-old's behest– including neo-pro Jonas Ahlstrand, who has been part of Marcel KIttel's lead-out train for the last two years. "I proposed names. I really chose people with whom I used to work. My train, the guys I wanted to work with; Geoffrey Soupe, Dominique Rollin and Steve Chainel will have more in the role of protector during a race. There is also Adrien Petit, Jonas Ahlstrand."
The introduction of these riders is Bouhanni's attempt at building a sprint train for himself, something he believes he needs if he wants to compete more consistently with the top riders. "I can sprint in all circumstances. If I find myself alone, I can manage. But it is always better to be taken (to the line), that's crystal clear. When Kittel is released, in the lead, with 200 meters to go, it is a big advantage. He is the one that can go and not the others, so we must try to reverse roles and we can win more races. This is a less stressful position, you take fewer risks. It takes the weight off."
Bouhanni has been incorporating cyclo cross into his off-season training and competed at the International de Marle this weekend, although he climbed off before the end.