HUERCAL, Spain (VN) — This time it was only the air that Nacer Bouhanni was punching.
The controversial Cofidis sprinter, a former boxer who’s had his fair share of run-ins, finally could celebrate an overdue grand tour victory the best way he knows how. It was right fist into the air in an emotional victory salute in stage 6 at the 2018 Vuelta a España.
“I haven’t won in the Vuelta since 2014 and I feel honored to raise my arms again in victory in a grand tour,” Bouhanni said. “I really wanted to get back to winning ways in important races and I was in good position with 200m to go.”
The victory was Bouhanni’s third career Vuelta stage win and ended his grand tour stage win drought dating back to 2014. Once considered France’s best sprinter, he’s stalled over the past few seasons. Though he’s won his fair share of races, he has yet to win a stage in the Tour de France. In fact, Cofidis didn’t even take him to the Tour this year.
Bouhanni was caught up in an odd media brouhaha overnight. The race jury report docked him a 30-second time penalty in Wednesday’s stage for apparently taking an illegal feed late in the stage. Bouhanni was struggling in the extreme heat and took a drink too close to the line and later finished last.
A Spanish media outlet, however, reported that Bouhanni had an argument with his Cofidis sport director and then punched him during the stage.
Bouhanni denied the story, posting a message on Twitter that read, “I am not a bad boy.” His Cofidis team took the extraordinary step to issue a formal press release denying the incident.
“There was never a fight between our leader and sport director,” the statement read. “The Cofidis team also denies information about conflict between Bouhanni and the management. It is false.”
A day after finishing last in Wednesday’s stage, Bouhanni was first when it counted.
“I really wanted to win today after what happened [Wednesday evening],” Bouhanni said. “The false information was very upsetting.”
It seems Bouhanni’s bad-boy image spreads faster than he sprints these days. A much-needed victory is a boost not only for him but also for his Cofidis team.
Bouhanni’s win marked the third day in a row a team won at the WorldTour for the first time this season. On Tuesday, Ben King delivered Dimension Data’s first WorldTour win of 2018 and yesterday Simon Clarke did the same for EF Education First-Drapac.