French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) showed another glimpse of a return to form with his fourth place at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday, having mixed with some of the world's fastest men, including winner Dylan Groenewegen and second and third-placed finishers Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Deceuninck-QuickStep's Elia Viviani in the sprint finish.
Bouhanni worked well with his teammates to return to the front of the race after getting caught up in a late crash, and then surfed his way around the other teams' sprint lead-outs in the hope of picking the right wheels for the final push.
"I was held up by the crash [with 11km to go], and the crosswinds took a lot out of me when Bert Van Lerberghe and Kenneth Van Bilsen helped me to get back up to the peloton," said Bouhanni on his team's website.
"I then tried to follow the other sprint trains, and knew that Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma were the ones to follow in particular.
"I was almost too well placed – too early – in the final corner," he explained, "as I didn't want to get boxed in, but it all came back together from behind. I was on Viviani's wheel, waiting for him to launch his sprint, but Groenewegen came through from behind me, and he was the strongest today."
The 28-year-old has shown little consistency and has been out of favour at French Pro Continental team Cofidis since the arrival of new team manager Cédric Vasseur ahead of the 2018 season, taking only a handful of victories last year, which nevertheless included a stage at the Vuelta a España and the 4 Jours de Dunkerque.
Bouhanni told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Oman in February that he was already in contact with other teams – both other French Pro Conti squads and foreign WordTour outfits – about the 2020 season,
"It's still too early to say my future has been decided or anything," he said. "At this moment in time, I don't know and can't say, but for the moment discussions are taking place.
"I think it will be sorted quite soon but, personally, I'm in no hurry. I want to reflect on it and not make a mistake about my choice for the future."
Bouhanni has, however, shown sparks of his old self already this season, taking second place on stage 2 in Alicante behind Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and fifth on the final stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February, followed by third on the opening stage in Oman.
Bouhanni then finished outside the time limit on the opening stage of the team time trial at the recent Tirreno-Adriatico after losing contact with his teammates just five kilometres into the 21.5km course.
"Nacer was keen to measure himself against Viviani and Gaviria [on later sprint stages], and then today he did two turns on the front and let himself get dropped," Cofidis directeur sportif Roberto Damiani told L'Equipe after the stage.
The big question now is whether Bouhanni will be selected for Cofidis' Tour de France squad for July, having been overlooked entirely last year when Vasseur selected Bouhanni's former lead-out man, Christophe Laporte, as the team's main sprinter.
Bouhanni will race for the first time in France this season at the one-day Cholet-Pays de la Loire on March 31, followed by Scheldeprijs in Belgium in April, before building for a possible start at La Grande Boucle in Brussels, Belgium, with Cofidis having been handed one of the Tour's four wildcard places for the race.
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