Road

Nacer Bouhanni out to prove he’s still a force in the sprints

With Tour de France a possibility, combative French sprinter looking for hot start at Bessèges.

Nacer Bouhanni, the combative French sprinter on Arkéa-Samsic, is hoping to rediscover his groove in the bunch sprints in 2021.

Part of the famous “Class of 1990,” Bouhanni’s star has faded a bit over the past few seasons. His last WorldTour win came with a stage win at the 2018 Vuelta a España. After a winless 2019 season, he moved down to the ProTeam French squad and delivered four wins across the COVID-compromised 2020 campaign.

Lining up Wednesday at the Etoile de Bessèges, Bouhanni is looking for confirmation against a strong field of WorldTour-level sprinters.

“I have won this race in the past, and there will be opportunities for sprint finishes,” Bouhanni said. “I am often asked what my future goals are, or how many wins I am aiming for. I can’t put a number on that, I prefer to express myself after I have won a race. I always reset the counters to zero at the start of the year.”

A few years ago, Bouhanni seemed destined to be one of the top sprinters in the bunch. He rattled off stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta en route to his career haul of 69 career wins.

His momentum flagged with some injuries and some high-profile clashes and crashes in the sprints. Bouhanni left Groupama-FDJ in 2015 for Cofidis, his production slagged and he ran afoul with team management. Despite close calls, he’s never won a stage in three starts at the Tour de France.

Bouhanni, 30, says he’s matured as a rider, and he’s feeling healthy once again, and enters 2021 with big ambitions. With a sprint-laden Tour route, and team captain Nairo Quintana hinting he’d like to race the Giro d’Italia, a return to the Tour could be in the cards this year.

“I want to win,” Bouhanni said. “After that, you have to start by obtaining a victory, then this first acquired success, often, calls for others. The appetite comes with eating as we say. I had a good feeling in training, after the test anyway remains the competition.”

A strong start at Bessèges could set him on a course for the Tour and redemption.