The uphill finale on Harrogate’s Parliament Street has an unspoken resonance for Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis). In 2014, his final campaign at FDJ, he was part of a very public internal competition with Arnaud Démare for the role of sprinter at the Tour de France, missing out after his fierce rival won the French title in Futuroscope.
A week later, Bouhanni watched forlornly on television as the first yellow jersey of the Tour was decided by a sprint in Harrogate that seemed perfectly tailored to his characteristics. On the eve of this Tour de Yorkshire’s visit to the same site, Bouhanni watched the footage once again, examining how Marcel Kittel claimed the win, and perhaps silently cursing how he had missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
On Saturday, Bouhanni finally sampled Parliament Street for himself, and delivered a powerful sprint effort to claim a resounding victory on stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire. The victory was all the more impressive given that Bouhanni was forced to open his effort from much further out than planned after Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) looked to steal a march on the favourites.
“I had to launch my sprint early. I went from a long, long way. I made my big effort with around 350-400 metres to go when I saw Jonathan Hivert had attacked. I reacted behind and got back up to him, and then I won,” Bouhanni said afterwards.
In Scarborough on Friday, Bouhanni had also been pressed into sprint action ahead of time and eventually faded to place fourth. On this occasion, the terrain was better-suited to a solo effort. He cruised up the final slope to the line, and the fast-finishing Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) was unable to make any real inroads into his advantage.
“We went from too far out yesterday. We wound up for the sprint for too long, and with 700 metres I only had one rider with me. There was a side-wind and they were able to get back up to me because I made too much of an effort before the final metres,” Bouhanni said. There were no such problems on Saturday. “Today was quite a difficult stage all the same, it was quite hilly. But in the finale, I was always well placed in the first fifteen positions.”
Bouhanni’s victory was his fourth of the campaign after triumphs at Nokere Koerse, Paris-Camembert and the Volta a Catalunya. “I’ve had a lot of second and third places. I’ve been second four times, but when you’re a sprinter, the important thing is to win,” he said.
Tour de France
Although the Harrogate win will do little to temper the lingering disappointment of 2014, it augurs well for Bouhanni as he builds towards July and the Big Show, where, remarkably, he is still waiting to open his account. Indeed, Bouhanni has yet to contest a sprint for stage victory at the Tour. His two appearances to date, in 2013 and 2015, were cut short by illness and injury, while last year, he missed the race altogether after sustaining hand injury during an altercation with a fellow hotel guest on the eve of the French championships.
“Up to now, I’ve never had the chance to sprint at the Tour de France,” Bouhanni told Cyclingnews at the start in Tadcaster on Saturday. “For sure, it will be the big objective of the year for the team and for me.”
Cofidis has already underlined its confidence in Bouhanni’s abilities by extending his contract to the end of 2019, and has regularly sought to strengthen the lead-out train around him during his tenure at the team.
“Of course, if there’s an opportunity to pick up more riders for the sprint train that would be good, but I’m not the one who takes care of that, it’s Yvon Sanquer who’s in charge of recruitment,” Bouhanni said.
Bouhanni’s next outing will be at the Tour of California, and he will finetune his build-up for the Tour at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. His appetite for July will doubtless have been whetted by the experience in Yorkshire. “It’s my first time here, there have been a lot of spectators,” he said. “I didn’t expect so many on the roadside, it’s a bit like being at the Tour de France.”
For now, at least, it will suffice as a substitute for the real thing.