When illness forced Marcel Kittel to pull out of the Giro d'Italia after winning two stages in Ireland, it was expected that the sprinters' stages would become more evenly balanced but Nacer Bouhanni had other ideas.
The FDJ rider has picked up where Kittel left off and is currently the sprinter on everyone's lips at a Giro nearly at its halfway stage after winning three stages.
While Kittel is all about his huge power output and capacity to start and retain his sprint from a long way out to gradually blow away the opposition, Bouhanni's style is more similar to that of Mark Canvendish. Bouhanni – a former boxer – relies on a sudden burst of pace inside the last 100 metres to knock out his opposition.
“It's a huge compliment for people to suggest that, but Cav is a great sprinter. I've got a lot of respect for what he's done in his career. Cav is Cav and I'm Bouhanni,” the Frenchman said after landing his third sprint victory of this Giro in Salsomaggiore Terme at the end of Stage 10.
Team Sky's pressing in the final kilometres forced Bouhanni to make up a fair bit of ground and made his stage victory even more impressive.
The French sprinter has retained several training methods used in boxing for his winter training regime since joining the world of prefessional cycling four years ago, and he obviously still knows to deliver a punch when the finishing line is in sight.
But as Cavendish has sasid, Bouhanni claims that he does not need to train particularly for sprinting but his speed is more of a natural ability.
“You can work on certain qualities but I’ve always been pretty explosive anyway, and over the years, I’ve progressed. But I just train and look to improve,” said Bouhanni, whose challenge before the Giro has been as much about surviving in the mountains as learning the in and outs of the explosive finishes.
“In my head, the Giro was always an objective, so I took four or five days off the bike after winning the GP de Denain and then I went and trained in the mountains. I worked hard to be ready for the Giro and I feel in great form now.”
The end of Tuesday's stage was a tricky one but Bouhanni negotiated his way through the bunch to put himself in a good position for the final kilometre. He crucially managed to stay clear of the crash that took Tyler Farrar and Elia Viviani out.
Trek Factory Racing's Giacomo Nizzolo attempted to thwart Bouhanni's quest for the win, the latter could not be beaten and took the win in the last 150 metres to keep his red points jersey. He also leads the Giro's “Fighting Spirit” classification.
Bouhanni does not like to blow his own trumpet, however, and he downplayed any hint that suggested that he is on a higher level than his sprint competitors.
“I’ve said it before, all of the sprinters here are still dangerous. You can’t underestimate anyone,” said Bouhanni, who now wants to keep the red jersey throughout the Giro.
“Stage 13 should be the next sprint and I want to take this jersey to the finish, that’s as important as winning a fourth stage.”
Bouhanni's other big objective is to be chosen for FDJ's Tour de France when the squad is announced at the French championship just one week before the Tour takes off in Leeds.
“I hope I’ll be there,” he said of the Tour. “But right now I’m concentrating on the Giro.”
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