Nacer Bouhanni grew frustrated at missing out on the big classics during his time at FDJ but on Friday morning, for once, the Frenchman was content enough to take part in the sideshow rather than the main event at E3 Harelbeke as he prepared for Gent-Wevelgem.
Although his Cofidis team did not receive a wildcard berth for E3 Harelbeke, Bouhanni was invited to participate in the now-traditional sprint challenge, held to entertain the crowds as they await the finish on Harelbeke’s Stasegemsesteenweg.
The event fitted neatly into Bouhanni’s preparations for Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. He reconnoitred the finale of the race early on Friday morning, before lining out in the sprint event – where, naturally, the organisers opted to place him in the same heat as Alessandro Petacchi, with whom he famously clashed as a neo-professional at the 2011 Tour of Turkey.
“I trained already this morning, I went and took a look at the roads of Gent-Wevelgem and now I’ve come here to do the sprints,” Bouhanni told Cyclingnews between rounds. “It’s a bit of fun but it’s also useful to do a set of efforts like this before Gent-Wevelgem.”
Bouhanni has spent the week leading up to Gent-Wevelgem digesting his sixth place finish at Milan-San Remo last Sunday, a performance that confirmed two recurring trends in the fast man’s recent history. As at last year’s Vuelta a España and Ponferrada Worlds, Bouhanni climbed well and digested the Cipressa and Poggio without hiccups, but as has been the case during his early weeks in Cofidis colours, he was left without a lead-out over the other side.
“Milan-San Remo was a disappointment for me because I was up there in the final and I really wanted to win but I could only manage to finish in sixth place,” Bouhanni said. “I wasn’t expecting that, I was hoping for a lot more. But the season is still long and there are still other nice races to come.”
Bouhanni’s disappointment at failing to make a greater impact in the sprint is tempered by the fact that it was, in his fourth year as a professional, only his first appearance at Milan-San Remo, or any monument Classic, for that matter – Arnaud Démare, a rival from his amateur days, was consistently preferred to him during his time at FDJ.
“It was my first big classic of any kind. I’d never done a big classic before in my career, so when you look at it that way, I suppose sixth place in my first big classic wasn’t too bad,” Bouhanni said. “And when it came to the sprint, I made up a lot of ground in the last 200 metres, so I still had freshness in my legs even after 300 kilometres.”
A first win at Gent-Wevelgem?
On Sunday morning, Bouhanni lines up for his first tilt at Gent-Wevelgem, where victory would put an altogether different complexion on a campaign in which he is yet to record a win. Despite the series of wayward lead-outs, Bouhanni’s pure speed remains intact and he will surely draw motivation, too, from the prospect of facing off against Démare, who placed second at Gent-Wevelgem a year ago.
Gent-Wevelgem is – normally though by no means always – a race for sprinters, but the persistent rain and all-round grim conditions forecast for Sunday look set to turn it into something of a war of attrition.
“I’m hoping for a sprint, obviously, but in terms of what scenario I’m expecting it’s always hard to say in advance,” Bouhanni said. “In any case, I’m not worried about the rain – in San Remo we had rain all day too. I don’t know if that will make for smaller group in the finish or not. We’ll see."