To those watching the Volta a Catalunya, Nacer Bouhanni’s surging drive up the Avenida des Reis Catolicos in Olot to triumph on stage 2 on Tuesday may well have looked like a near-carbon copy of his equally clear stage 1 bunch sprint victory in the Calle San Jaume in Calella the day before. However, illness made the stage 2 win tougher than it appeared, the Cofidis rider later revealed.
“I was feeling sick during the stage, my stomach hurt,” Bouhanni told a small group of reporters afterwards. “It was tough, but I was able to hold out to the end.”
Bouhanni pointed out that two victories in Catalunya in two days has doubled his personal tally of wins in the season to four - three, although he was modest enough not to highlight the fact, at WorldTour level. Winning was also a good boost to his morale, he said,b ecause they helped stop him from dwelling too much on the huge disappointment of losing any chance of victory in Milan-Sanremo because of a mechanical incident within sight of the line.Or as he put it on Tuesday, “These are important victories, and after what happened in Sanremo it’s been good to concentrate on racing and going for wins on the bike.”
Not that it had been plain sailing on stage two for Bouhanni, for all some fans may have found Tuesday’s scenario of a break of four riders reeled in close to the line, followed by a bunch sprint, an apparently mind-numbingly predictable outcome to the day’s racing.
“At the start of the stage, my stomach hurt, and I had to visit the race doctor. Fortunately I got better during the race and I hope that continues in the days to come,” Bouhanni said.
Bouhanni said the finale, in comparison, was relatively straightforward. “There was a big right-hand around a kilometre and a half to go, and that’s where we started to up the effort. From there on I had been on my leadout man Geoffrey Soupe’s wheel on the ideal position and I could stay with him all the way to the finish.”
“It was a very fast downhill into the finishing straight, but then there was a kick up with 100 metres to go, which made it trickier to judge. But I went for it with 200 metres from the finish and then I could hold on to the end.”
Two victories in such convincing style have underlined the fact that Bouhanni is the sprinter to beat in the remaining two flatter stages of the Volta, with a possible bunch gallop on stage six still to come. However, Bouhanni emphasized that he did not take anything for granted - and neither should anybody else.
“I didn’t ever say [yesterday] I was going to win three stages here, I said there were three chances of bunch sprints,” he pointed out in a mild rebuke to anybody in the media who might have dared to misinterpret any of his statements of intent before the race. “That’s different.”
“There might even be four. I have won two. I hope I can get through these two difficult stages [in the Pyrenees] and then go for a third win in the Volta a Catalunya.”
“But there are a lot of top sprinters here, for example Ben Swift (Team Sky) has got second in Milano-Sanremo and has shown he can get through some really difficult, hilly terrain, and still be really fast for the bunch sprints. And there are others, here but I think Ben Swift is the most dangerous.”
He flatly denied, too, that he considered himself to be the fastest sprinter in the world at this point in the season. “That would be very pretentious of me to say that. There are a lot of other guys who have done great things this season, like Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) - lots of different people.”
“All that’s happened is that I’ve been in good form since the start of the season, and I had Paris-Nice, Sanremo and the Volta a Catalunya as my objectives for this part of the year. After being in top condition here, my next goal is to be in the same form in the Tour de France.”