Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) clinched his second 2014 Giro d’Italia stage win in four days and seventh victory of the season with a well-timed burst for the line on Friday, powering ahead of local sprint star Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) by a small but clear margin.
“I wanted to start my sprint just in the final corner [with 250 metres to go] on the left hand side but I couldn’t do that because Nizzolo and [Luka] Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) were already there ahead of me and my path was blocked,” Bouhanni told reporters afterwards.
“So I went up on the right, there was a little bit of a gap I could get through, and that was that.”
Thanks to Bouhanni when it comes to bunch sprint victories in the Giro the French have gone from famine to feast in no time at all. Prior to the fourth-year pro’s wins in Bari and Foligno, the previous French fastman to raise his arms in a mass dash for the line in the Giro d'italia was Yvon Bertin in stage 12 of the 1980 race.
On top of that, with his second win the 23-year-old has now wrested the points jersey from the shoulders of Cannondale’s Elia Viviani, and leads the competition by 166 points to Nizzolo’s 150. He confirmed holding it will be an objective, at least in the short to mid-term.
“I already went for it in an intermediate sprint today and I got one point there,” Bouhanni said.
“But I only did that intermediate sprint at 80 percent because there was a bunch sprint at the end of the stage to think about. I will try and defend this lead for as long as possible, though, and in the intermediate sprints in the mountain stages, I’ll be going flat out to get as many points as possible.”
Both Bouhanni’s roots in boxing as a young athlete and his liking to use a spot of sparring as a base for winter training are well-known. What he revealed on Friday though, is that before starting to race he will watch old videos of Mike Tyson - “my hero” - to psyche himself up for bunch sprints.
As for the future, although it is not certain Bouhanni will race the Tour this summer - “normally I’ll be there, but the decision is not made until 10 days beforehand” - Bouhanni’s second Grand Tour victory of his career confirms he could give both of cycling’s top sprinters of the moment, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), a run for their money. In Belfast, in fact, where the German took his first win, Bouhanni finished second after opening up the sprint and in Dublin he was fifth.
“They are the big names, but I’m only 23 and I’m getting better every year,” Bouhanni said. “I’m going to compare myself against them too much, though, because when I sprint against them, it’s to try and beat them.”