It’s fair to say there was a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Nacer Bouhanni in the opening stages of the season, and a fair few doubts surrounding him, too.
Moving down from WorldTour to Pro Continental level, from FDJ to Cofidis, was widely regarded as a gamble – one that didn’t seem to be paying off early on. Having brought over some key support personnel from FDJ, more was expected from the Frenchman than the lacklustre start in Qatar, Oman, and other early-season races.
But the 24-year-old insists he never suffered a crisis of confidence and that he’s now well on track for his main goal of the season, the Tour de France. A running tally of five wins for 2015, boosted by a second stage win at the Critérium du Dauphiné on Wednesday, certainly attests to that.
“In a season there are a lot of races,” said Bouhanni after that victory. “It is rare that all sprinters are strong already from the Tours of Qatar and Oman through Milan-San Remo and until the Tour. There are a lot of races in a season and you cannot always be at your best.
"I'm happy because I've had five or six second places since the beginning of the season, now it's my fifth win. I hope I'll keep going this way.
"I take care of myself. I know myself very well and I target my goals. I feel I'm getting stronger for the Tour."
Although he hasn’t come up against the caliber of sprinting talent that will grace the Tour in July, Bouhanni will take a great deal of confidence from his two wins. Now, though, the race enters the mountains for the final four stages where it will all be about working the legs into the best possible condition.
"[Wednesday] was a long day. We rode for more than six hours. Since the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Cofidis team was worked every day. Only the team time trial was quieter for us. Today all the leaders wanted to be in front in the finale and it made it nervous," he said.
"Now we'll enter the second phase of the race, which is mountainous. Our leader is Dani Navarro. I'll work on my pedaling style in the hills and continue my preparation for the Tour de France, which is going well so far.”