Prolifically successful French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) may have had to wait until his fourth race of the season, the Vuelta a Andalucia-Ruta Ciclista del Sol to step up onto a winner’s podium once more, but when he did so on Wednesday’s stage two, Bouhanni certainly had a lot to celebrate - in the shape of the stage win, the leader’s jersey and the points classification lead, all taken in one fell swoop.
Speaking to journalists after the ceremonies and as yet another heavy rainshower darkened the Cordoba skyline, the 25-year-old was in no doubt as to which part of the day’s haul felt most important - his first win since taking the last race of the European calendar, the Putte Kapelle, last October.
Sixth in Seville on stage 1, Bouhanni said he had a score to settle after Wednesday’s defeat, and on Thursday’s much more challenging finale, Bouhanni claimed the win in emphatic style ahead of both Fabio Felline (Trek Factory-Segafredo) and Ben Swift (Team Sky). That lead-out man Christophe Laporte could come home in fourth place, waving his arms aloft only underlined Cofidis domination of the situation.
“After yesterday’s stage, I was really disappointed,” Bouhanni explained. “We completely missed our chance yesterday because it wasn’t clear where the last kilometre of the stage began, and I came out of the last roundabout [in the final kilometre of the stage] in 25th place.” - by which point, it was too late.
On stage 2’s much more physically challenging finale Bouhanni had no such difficulties. “This time I was taken right through the last kilometre by Christophe Laporte, and then all I had to do was step on the accelerator with 200 to go.”
Teamwork was equally important, Bouhanni said, on the earlier grinding ascent into the sierras of Cordoba for ensuring he would come through with as much energy as possible. “The whole squad did a great job of supporting me over the top of that climb and then bringing me back together for the final sprint.”
Praising Laporte, he added, “he’s been someone whom I got to know last year, and given he’s such a talented rider, I really wanted him as my leadout man. Together with Geoffrey Soupe, they work very well together in my 'train’.” Indeed, Soupe had been with Bouhanni on stage 1 in the finale, but the Cofidis bid for victory had been foiled by the confusion over the final distance to the finish.
It will have escaped none of the Milan-Sanremo contenders, including Bouhanni, that albeit 150 kilometres shorter, the fast, flat approach roads of Andalucia’s stage 2 followed by a very hilly finale and very fast descent into Cordoba bore a certain, distant, similarity to La Primavera. For the Frenchman, therefore, a good sign for the first Monument of the season in March, although he was keen not to overstate his case.
“A result like this is a good sign about my form, I started off the season with 75 percent of my full condition and it’s getting better and better, so I’m pleased,” Bouhanni - sixth in Sanremo last year - said. “It’s good both for my Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo.”
When asked about where he thought his chances of another victory would now come, Bouhanni spluttered in a very Gallic way and uttered a cryptic on verra - we’ll see. Nor was he optimistic about his chances about defending the lead on Friday’s much hillier stage.
“Friday is much harder than today, and my goal here was to get a stage, it was really important for me.” Now, with that mission accomplished, anything else will be a bonus.