While Mark Cavendish is grabbing the headlines with his renaissance at the Tour de France, taking two stage wins so far after a five-year drought, Arkéa-Samsic sprinter Nacer Bouhanni is proving himself among the most consistent sprinters on his own return to his home Grand Tour.
The 30-year-old is at the Tour for the first time since 2017 and is enjoying his best run of results at the race. Having not cracked the top three in a sprint in three previous participations, Bouhanni's third place on stage 6 in Châteauroux was his third top-three placing in the past four days.
On stage 3 he finished third behind Alpecin-Fenix duo Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen in Pontivy, while stage 4 saw him miss out to Cavendish in Fougéres. On Thursday, Bouhanni and his team made a big effort to come back from being held up on the run-in to Châteauroux, with the sprinter coming off Cavendish's wheel to take third place.
"Once again I'm on the podium," the Frenchman said after the stage. "It's a shame. [Jacopo Guarnieri's] crash with two kilometres to go bothered me and I had to make an effort to get back to the front.
"Clément Russo did a good job of reeling in Dan McLay, my pilot fish, who put me back in the wheels before the sprint, but it was still very nervous today. Once I saw that we were far away, I told my teammates that we had to get back in the race, especially when I saw Alpecin-Fenix and Deceuninck-QuickStep on the left-hand side.
"It's a pity that this crash cost us this effort with two kilometres to go because before that we were really in the game. I'd like to thank my teammates once again. There are still some nice sprints to come next week."
Bouhanni was also in the mix at the intermediate sprint in Luçay-le-Mâle, with he and Cavendish touching as they fought for green jersey points. While Cavendish, now on 148 points, extended his points classification lead at the finish, Bouhanni also moved up the ranking and now lies third on 99 points.
"This is the third sprint of the Tour and three times on the podium," Bouhanni said. "It's good, but I hope to win one."
Arkéa-Samsic directeur sportif Yvon Caer praised his riders for coming back in the final and said that Bouhanni would be able to add to his career Grand Tour haul of six stages across the Giro and Vuelta, with possible sprints in Valence, Nîmes, Carcassonne, Libourne, and Paris still left to race.
"Guarnieri's [of Groupamaa-FDJ] crash cost Nacer and his teammates a big effort. He didn't even think he could make the sprint, but they managed to come back well without panicking. Dan did a great job, but at the moment Cavendish is on top.
"I'm sure it will turn in our favour. We have to keep the momentum going. Nacer's good condition will pay off for him and us in the upcoming sprints. We all believe in it.
"All the ingredients are there, but everything has to be aligned, especially opening the sprint at the right moment, but we believe in it. We are confident about Nacer's possibilities. He is a competitor, and his goal is to win at this Tour."
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.