Nacer Bouhanni has told French sports newspaper L'Equipe that, despite only having been given one Cofidis teammate to help him specifically for the sprints at the upcoming Vuelta a España, he feels as though he's about to hit his best form, and is ready to win again at the Spanish Grand Tour.
"When you have a team around you, and you feel part of the group, things are a lot easier," said Bouhanni, who will have only Belgian teammate Kenneth Van Bilsen assigned to leading him out for the sprints at the Vuelta, which starts in Málaga on Saturday.
"Against teams that have half of their riders helping out in the sprint, it's going to be difficult not having a sprint train, but there are still things that you can do. I just have to not make any mistakes. If I find myself in a good position to win, I know how to," he told L'Equipe.
The 28-year-old Frenchman has had a difficult season due to a mixture of illness and not getting on well with new team manager Cédric Vasseur, who took over at the head of the team from Yvon Sanquer ahead of this season.
Nevertheless, the sprinter has still racked up five victories, first winning in May at the Four Days of Dunkirk, followed by victory at the GP Marcel Kint and two stages at the Boucles de la Mayenne at the start of June.
His last race win came on a stage of the Route d'Occitanie in mid-June, where he defied team orders and went up against designated sprinter Christophe Laporte. In the aftermath, Bouhanni was passed over for selection for the Tour de France, with Laporte instead sent to represent the team for the sprint finishes in France.
"I've definitely never been as sick as I have been this year. Mentally, that's very difficult to deal with," Bouhanni said. "After Cédric's arrival, the team's focus changed. Whereas before I had a sprint train built around me, now I don't have one. You can see that something similar has happened to another sprinter, Marcel Kittel, at Katusha-Alpecin - from one day to the next, you change everything.
"Despite everything, I've always stayed professional. I've kept working as hard as ever – perhaps even more so, which is maybe why I got sick in March. But the wheels keep on turning; only by working hard will I get back on track and winning again."
While Bouhanni told L'Equipe that he had considered breaking his contract to move to Fortuneo-Samsic for 2019, he's now set to stay with Cofidis until the end of next year. Fortuneo, meanwhile, have signed German sprinter André Greipel from Lotto Soudal.
"I thought about leaving. I spoke to four or five other teams," he said. "When the situation just kept getting worse, I thought that Cofidis simply didn't want me anymore.
"But I wanted to know, and before the French national championships, I sat down with the team president, Thierry Vittu, and Cédric. They said they wanted to keep me until the end of my contract in 2019. Thierry is a director at an important company [Cofidis], and can calmly take the lead on such things, and I just wanted to be able to calmly do my job."
Despite starting the Vuelta with only a one-man lead-out 'train', Bouhanni knows that he has an opportunity to find his sprinting legs again over the course of the next few weeks.
"I feel as though I'm about to hit top form," he said. "My goal is to be at 100 per cent for the Vuelta."
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