Nacer Bouhanni may be about to begin his fourth season with Cofidis at next week’s Dubai Tour, but the new campaign will not be without changes for the Frenchman. Cedric Vasseur replaced Yvon Sanquer as team manager during the off-season, and one of his first weighty decisions has been to reduce the size of the lead-out train at Bouhanni’s disposal.
When Bouhanni joined Cofidis from FDJ at the beginning of 2015, the Pro Continental squad endeavoured to build a nucleus around his sprinting talent, and last year underlined their commitment to the project by extending his contract until the end of 2019.
Although Bouhanni has twice finished atop the Europe Tour standings in his three seasons at Cofidis to date, he has failed to land a long-awaited stage victory at the Tour de France – and missed the race altogether in 2016 after injuring himself in an altercation with a hotel guest at that year’s French Championships.
“He’s a leader and he has been the target of attacks. However, he is also conscious of having committed some errors of behaviour,” Vasseur told L’Équipe of his team leader.
Vasseur added that it was his role to “give confidence” to Bouhanni and said that he could understand that the sprinter might have been unhappy at his appointment in place of Sanquer. “That’s normal: a person in whom he had confidence was fired and he wasn’t consulted on my arrival,” Vasseur said.
Last year, Bouhanni’s father Karim was hired by the Cofidis team as part of his entourage, but Vasseur decided not to renew the working relationship with him for 2018. Bouhanni's brother Rayane and long-term coach Jacques Decrion both remain at Cofidis.
Cutting the lead out train
Vasseur has also taken the decision to reduce the size of Bouhanni’s lead-out train, with regular lead-out man Christophe Laporte handed a different race programme for the early part of the season. Laporte made full use of his new freedom to win stage 2 of Étoile de Bessèges on Thursday.
“It’s a strategy that wasn’t working,” Vasseur said of Bouhanni’s lead-out train. “I noticed that he was letting himself get shut in by waiting to be led out in the last 200 metres. The team works during the race and in the end, it’s the sprinter’s instincts that make the different. Nacer doesn’t need six riders around him, nor does he need Christophe Laporte as a lead-out man to win a race of medium importance.”
Bouhanni’s 2017 season featured victories at Paris-Camembert and Nokere Koerse, stage wins at the Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Yorkshire, and top spot in the Europe Tour rankings, but the second half of the year was blighted by the after-effects of the head injury and concussion he sustained in his heavy crash on the final day in Yorkshire.
Although Bouhanni made a remarkably quick comeback to start – and complete – the Tour de France, he was some way short of his best form in July, and was unable to make an impact in the sprints.
Bouhanni will hope to hit the ground running in Dubai and Oman in the coming weeks, before his first major targets at Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo. Cofidis have already secured a wild card invitation to the Tour de France. Although he and Vasseur may not be in full agreement about the changes to the team’s sprint strategy, Bouhanni looked to take a pragmatic view.
“I’m under contract until 2019, we’re going to have to work together,” Bouhanni said, according to L’Équipe. “Our ambitions are the same. That will be the most important. The objective is that, at the end, Cofidis win.”