Davide Cimolai vanquishes sprinting giant Bouhanni

'I have to say I went well today,' says 27-year-old

Last year when Davide Cimolai (FDJ) celebrated his first bunch sprint win in the second-last stage of the Volta a Catalunya, he had conceded that had Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) been present, he would probably not have won the bunch sprint.

Fast forward 12 months and the Italian was able to celebrate not only clinching the first victory of the Volta, but outpowering Bouhanni by a photocall margin to do so.

The winner of the same opening stage in Calella on a gently rising uphill sprint finish last year, Bouhanni - who then quit the race ill a few days later - was decidedly uncommunicative about his defeat, riding off directly to his team hotel without talking to reporters.

Cimolai, though, was happy to talk about how he trailed Bouhanni as the Cofidis fast man powered out of the pack as the finishing gantries approached, then inched past him for a narrow win. In fact, the gap was so narrow that unusually for a sprinter - who tend to know even in photo finishes that seem to close to call - the Italian had no idea he had actually won.

"It was only when the commissaires told me I'd got the victory that I started believing it had happened," Cimolai said afterwards. "That's what made it such an emotional win for me.

"I'd done some pretty good racing recently. I've had good form since Paris-Nice, but the big doubt was how I'd come out of Milan-San Remo - where I was working hard for our captain [and former Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud] Demare right up until the last 200 metres - and I only got that answer today. I have to say I went well today.

"It was a very tough stage, 3,000 metres of climbing, and in the last few kilometres it was getting pretty hairy. There were a lot of attacks, a Sky guy [Peter Kennaugh] went off the front and I had to stay up there and wait. I was lucky that my teammate Arthur Vichot was there, he guided me through to the point where I could get on Bouhanni's wheel."

Last year's stage win in the Volta - also preceded by hilly terrain, just like this time round and just like in the Trofeo Laguiglea, which he won in 2015 - was hugely significant for his then team, Lampre-Merida, because it was their first WorldTour win of the season. And on this occasion, Cimolai's victory carried the extra resonance of netting the Italian the leader's jersey for tomorrow's team time trial.

"The objective was to win one stage and now I work for the team," he said. "Tomorrow there is a harder time trial, and I will see how I get on, day by day.

"This has been a very good race to me. When you like a race you do it more enthusiastically, wth Demare racing in Belgium this week I get my chance here. And I took it."

Weirdly enough - but it may serve as motivation for Cimolai and his teammates - FDJ's previous TTT victory was in the town of Banyoles, the same start/finish location as Tuesday's team time trial in the Volta a Catalunya, in the short-lived La Mediterraneenne stage race in February 2016.

The previous FDJ TTT win in Banyoles, though, was on a course 5.5 kilometres long, not like Tuesday's 41-kilometre mammoth race against the clock, and FDJ took the victory last year by a few hundreds of a second margin against Astana.

But as Cimolai would point out after his narrow victory against Bouhanni in Callella, a win is a win - no matter how small the gap.

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