Nacer Bouhanni: I'm ready to ride wherever, with whomever

Nacer Bouhanni and his Cofidis team appear to have ironed out their tensions - if not completely buried the hatchet - as the Frenchman looks ahead to the new season with renewed vigour.

Bouhanni has fallen out with team management on a number of occasions in the past 18 months, with the turning point seemingly being Cédric Vasseur's arrival as team manager - at the expense of Yvon Sanquer - mid-way through 2017.

However, he ended 2018 on a high, with a stage win at the Vuelta a España, and, after relocating to the warmer climes of the south of France, a good winter has allowed him to reset mentally and physically ahead of the 2019 campaign.

"I feel good. I reached 1630 watts in a sprint for the first time - before I was at 1550 - and we're only in January. I'm more relaxed, I try to block out a lot of things, and spread myself less thinly in order to focus squarely on my job," Bouhanni said in an interview with French newspaper L'Equipe.

"When the head leads, the legs follow, and I'm happy to be riding my bike. Last year, I wasn't happy riding my bike. My girlfriend and my family help me be positive. I've understood that there is a life after cycling, and that helps me put things in perspective."

As for the team, Bouhanni has decided to stop worrying about that, and concentrate solely on himself. When Vasseur took over and put his plans in place for 2018, Bouhanni found himself relegated, no longer the big leader in the team, and often demoted below his own previous lead-out man, Christophe Laporte.

Vasseur repeatedly called on Bouhanni to prove himself, and ended up leaving him out of the squad for the Tour de France, which would have been unthinkable when Cofidis made him their big-money marquee signing back in 2015.

Bouhanni will begin his season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February, followed by the Tour of Oman later that month. He'll ride the one-day Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in early March ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.

"I've told them to put me in the races they like, with the riders they like. I'm ready to ride wherever, with whomever," Bouhanni said.

"I'm not worried about knowing who will support me in the sprints. I have never decided things, so it's no use talking about it. Everyone is happy, or rather I've made peace with it. The atmosphere is calmer. Now, answers must be given on the bike."

That said, Vasseur did suggest he wasn't completely comfortable with that course of action.

"Nacer perhaps thinks it's better that the responsibility for the choices lay with me," he told L'Equipe. "It's the manager who gives an order to the team and, if errors are made, it's his neck on the line."

Vasseur confirmed to the team that Bouhanni and Laporte will both ride for their own chances in 2019 and will be kept on separate race programmes. However, he did not rule out taking both to the Tour de France.

"With his impulse and power, Nacer is a first-week sprinter. Christophe is more of an endurance rider - he's a sprinter for the second half of the Tour."

As for relations with Bouhanni, Vasseur suggested things may be different in 2019.

"I'm not completely obstinate; I know how to be flexible. I took on board the messages Nacer sent me. I hurt him with certain declarations in the press, but I wanted to stimulate him. I'll learn from that."

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