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French sprinter Bouhanni likely to leave at year’s end

The French sprinter says he will most likely ride for another WorldTour team next season

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MILAN (VN) — Due to budget, Arnaud Démare, and the Tour de France, Nacer Bouhanni will leave at the end of 2014 and take his sprint to another team for 2015.

“There’s a 95 percent chance that I’ll leave team FDJ,” the 23-year-old told media after finishing second in the French Championships. “I’m considering two teams, one foreign, and one Cofidis. I’ll decide next week where I’ll race in 2015.”

Bouhanni, also known as “The Boxer,” failed to defend his French title yesterday in Futuroscope against Démare. The latter won the blue, white, and red jersey for the first time and will debut in the Tour de France wearing his nation’s colors.

The different race program is part of a growing split within the team, which is too small for the French sprinters. After winning three stages and the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia, Bouhanni wanted to race the Tour de France but had to step aside for the 22-year-old Démare, who had the general manager’s nod from the start of the 2014 season.

“[General manager] Marc Madiot called me before the official press release, but to be honest, I didn’t get a real explanation. I’m not looking for one either,” Bouhanni told France’s L’Equipe newspaper.

“I’m not going to cry about it because I know that I’ll be able to return to the Tour de France in the future.”

FDJ’s Tour team announcement, however, helped make up Bouhanni’s mind to the point that he was able to say with 95 percent certainty that he is leaving. Only on August 1, when cycling’s rules allow transfer announcements, will he be able to confirm his decision.

Bouhanni wants to have dedicated teammates — like Johan Le Bon and Sébastien Chavanel — to lead him out in the sprint, a secure program — one that includes Milano-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and the Tour — and a contract worth 1.5 to 1.7 million euros. Bouhanni mentioned Cofidis, but Cannondale, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and Ag2r La Mondiale reportedly want to sign him as well.

“There are more chances of him changing teams than staying,” Madiot said last week. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the budget now to keep him.”

Bouhanni began his professional career in 2010 as a stagiaire, and over the last year and a half he blossomed with wins in the Giro d’Italia and Paris-Nice. Last year, he had his chance to race the Tour de France but had to abandon in stage 6 after becoming sick.

This spring he won his second stage in Paris-Nice. The following week, though, he began to consider a future without FDJ when the team overlooked him for Milano-Sanremo. “Sanremo was my first season goal,” he said. “That upset me.”

Given the proper support and time to develop, Bouhanni could develop into a sprinter like Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, or André Greipel. In 2015, he could take the next step in that direction.

“I’m still young, 23 years old,” Bouhanni said at the Giro. “I want to improve year by year, I’m training to reach that next level. I don’t want to compare myself to them, but I do want to improve and reach new goals.”