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Nacer Bouhanni: My season was destabilised by UCI suspension

Tour de la Provence 2020 5th Edition 1st stage Chateaurenard Saintes MariesdelaMer Stage 1 13022020 Nacer Bouhanni FRA Team Arkea Samsic photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2020
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

2021 was a year to forget for Arkéa-Samsic sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, not only because he went winless but because of a sprinting clash with Groupama-FDJ's Jake Stewart that spiralled out of control and meant he missed a vital part of the season.

The 31-year-old Frenchman was disqualified from the GP Cholet-Pays De Loire after bumping Stewart into the barriers as he dove for the wheel of eventual winner Elia Viviani (Cofidis). Stewart suffered a broken bone in his hand and missed the Tour of Flanders, and Bouhanni was later suspended for two months for dangerous sprinting.

Bouhanni withdrew from the Scheldeprijs after being the target of a flood of racial abuse online, saying he'd been incessantly harassed for his entire career but the fallout from the clash with Stewart was the final straw.

"I was really destabilized after this suspension by the UCI," Bouhanni said to L'Equipe.

"It disgusted me so much that I don't even want to talk about it anymore. It was very hard to accept. In fact, I didn't understand everything about this story. It's true that there was a mistake, but it was unimaginable that it would turn out this way.

"I don't dispute that there was a foul, that I changed my line, but it was in no way to harm my opponent. It was just to try to win the race," Bouhanni said.

The move he made was not too different from others made by riders who have been disqualified for irregular sprinting but not suspended. 

Bouhanni's reputation and past relegations may have contributed to his suspension, but he insisted after the race that he was "not a thug".

"People are quick to give you a reputation," he told l'Equipe. 

"I'm a rider with character but I'm mostly a normal guy. Those who really know me can talk about it. Of course, those who don't know me can be critical of me. Now, I don't really care. As long as everything is going well with the people who are around me on a daily basis, that's the main thing."

Bouhanni made his team's Tour de France squad and was close to his first Tour stage win several times but his best result was second to Mark Cavendish in Fougères. He also finished third twice in two other sprints. 

"I did what I could to come back in fairly good condition for the Tour de France. I just needed to race a little bit more before. It's not a big deal. I was in the mix but I still missed the victory," he explained.

With two more years added to his contract with Arkéa-Samsic, Bouhanni is hoping to finally get a stage of his home Grand Tour in 2022. Arkéa-Samsic are a ProTeam but have secured invitations to the 2022 WorldTour races after being the second-best ranked ProTeam in the 2021 behind Alpecin-Fenix.

"If I never make it, then I say to myself that it had to be this way. That's life and it's still sport. But I know that I will still do everything to get this stage victory in the Tour," Bouhanni said.

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