With Tour de France selection and leadership status on the line, tensions at the Cofidis team appear fraught. Nacer Bouhanni described the atmosphere in the team as ‘complicated’ after edging out his own teammate Christophe Laporte on the opening stage of the Route d’Occitaine (formerly known as the Route du Sud) in the southwest of France.
It was unusual to see the Cofidis pairing sprint against each other, with the result coming down to a photo finish. The two could then be seen in deep discussions after the finish line, before riding off in opposite directions.
"I'm really happy to win today, in conditions that were not easy for me,” Bouhanni told Eurosport following his victory. “It's very complicated within the Cofidis team. There are things going on internally that I do not want to talk about in public. I keep this for myself. I do not have much to say.
"It was a difficult arrival today, on a false flat. I took Valverde's wheel. I tried to outkick him in the last 200 meters and it was really difficult. This is my fifth win in a month, I have gradually found my level.”
Cofidis directeur sportif Christian Guiberteau told L’Equipe that Laporte was the team’s nominated leader at the start of the day but it didn’t work out as planned. Approaching the line, Bouhanni was sat on the Vital Concept lead out, with Laporte a few places further back in the peloton. Bouhanni appeared to hit out early rather than making a lead-out for his teammate. Then, rather than peeling off, the 27-year-old continued his sprint, forcing Laporte to come from behind and move around him to continue his sprint.
“Before the start, it was planned to work for Christophe, but Nacer is anything but a lead-out guy,” he told the French sports paper.
Originally brought in as Cofidis’ star rider, Bouhanni has found himself out of favour this season. New manager Cedric Vasseur has been outspoken in his criticism of the sprinter, saying that he would have to perform better if he wanted to earn a spot at the Tour de France. After a barren few months, not helped by illness in March, Bouhanni has turned his season around after claiming his first win of the year at the 4 Jours de Dunkerque at the start of May.
While Bouhanni has found a rich vein of form of late, changes within the structure of the team have given Laporte a chance to take more opportunities for himself. The 25-year-old had been an important part of Bouhanni’s lead-out train but has been a leader in his own right this season, taking wins at Etoile de Besseges, La Provence and Tro Bro Leon, among others. at present, Laporte holds six victories this season while Bouhanni is now on five.
Route d’Occitaine is only the second time that the pair have ridden together after Paris-Nice in March, where Laporte found the better results.
Bouhanni’s recent performances have put him in line for a Tour de France spot but he may have to work with, or even for, Laporte if he makes it. Cofidis will reveal their final eight-rider line-up on July 2 and could have a challenge on their hands if they take both riders to the Grand Tour next month.
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