France's youngest post-war road race champion in 2012 and winner of 11 races in 2013, including three WorldTour successes, Nacer Bouhanni has already established himself as one of the peloton's top sprinters at the age of 23.
With a stage victory at the Etoile de Bessèges already to his credit this season, the FDJ.fr rider has said he's gone into 2014 with one goal: "To win races, some big races. I'm not looking towards any one in particular. I want to fight with the world's best sprinters. They are very strong, but not unbeatable. They have two legs, two arms, a head and a heart [just like me]," he told L'Equipe.
While his father was a cyclist first and turned to boxing when his bike broke, Bouhanni made the same trip in reverse, swapping the aggression and adrenalin highs of the ring for bunch sprints. A touch of madness is needed in both, says the Frenchman, who also acknowledges that the comparison between sprinters and football goalkeepers, who are often branded as unhinged, is a fair one.
"But it's not just a case of being mad. On the contrary, the sprint is all about making lots of tiny calculations," he said. "When I am in the final kilometre, I am only thinking of one thing and that's the finish line. I am obsessed by that and all I am thinking about is getting over it in first place."
Bouhanni reveals that his thirst for victory is the same in absolutely any race he takes part in. "When I'm training, that's all I think about. For me, there aren't any small races. I give absolutely everything all the time. I've been like that since I was small and I'm the same with any game I'm playing with friends, such as bowling. I always want to win, I love it," he said.
The 23-year-old confesses his drive to succeed means that he can be hard on himself and those around him. "In all honesty, I am not easy to live with. I am demanding in what I want from myself, I want everything to go well. And, at the same time, I'm very demanding with others, but I do get on well with my teammates. We've got a good understanding," said Bouhanni.
He admits it has taken him time to gain the acceptance of his sprinting peers, but now believes he has that. "You've got to have character in order to gain respect. Initially, that wasn't easy and there were some attempts to intimidate me," he said.
"You have to accept that. When you're new on the scene, you upset the big sprinters a bit. You have to fight for your place to be able to rub shoulders with them. But once they are accustomed to seeing you and you get some results, respect automatically comes as well."
After crashing out of Bessèges on stage four, Bouhanni's quest for victories will recommence at Paris-Nice, where he claimed his first WorldTour success last year.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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