A crash after 70 kilometres of racing couldn’t hold Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) back on the road to Mantes-la-Jolie on Sunday, as the Frenchman picked himself up to claim victory on the opening road stage of Paris-Nice for the second successive season.
Bouhanni was one of many fallers on a crash-strewn stage, but although he cut his knee in the incident, he was quickly remounted and fought his way back on to the peloton.
“I had to go back to the doctor’s car a lot. I suffered by I tried to stay positive,” Bouhanni told L’Équipe. “In the last 20 kilometres, it’s like the pain went away. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline, the excitement… I forgot the pain and I didn’t think of anything other than my sprint.”
In the finishing straight, Bouhanni saw off the challenge of John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) to take hold of the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice for the second year in a row.
“We touched shoulders with 350-400 metres to go,” he said of his duel with Degenkolb. “I was on the left and I was afraid of the barriers. But it worked itself out fairly. At the end, he congratulated me. It’s normal between sprinters.”
It was Bouhanni’s second win of the season after he had claimed a stage at the Étoile des Bessèges last month, although he had endured a string of near misses at the Tour of Oman and Le Samyn in the intervening period.
“It’s the beginning of March and I already have two wins. Plenty of sprinters would settle for that,” Bouhanni said. “My objective was Paris-Nice. I wasn’t at 100 percent at the start of the year. I planned a first peak for Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo. The season is long, you shouldn’t rush things in January and February.”
Twelve months ago, Bouhanni’s spell in yellow at Paris-Nice came to an abrupt half after just one day, when he was forced out of the race after suffering facial injuries in a crash on stage 3. The 23-year-old is hopeful of defending his lead this time around, and believes that Monday’s stage to St Georges-sur-Baulche will provide the sprinters with another opportunity.
“We’ll control things and then give the maximum in the finale for the win,” Bouhanni said. “Even if I only had one win before Paris-Nice, I never doubted myself too much.”