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MILAN (VN) — Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni is building his Cofidis team around him ahead of his upcoming goals, including Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, next month’s Milano-Sanremo, and the Tour de France in July.
Over the last month, cycling’s emerging sprinter has raced in Spain, Qatar, and Oman, and worked with the same group of six or seven men that will lead him out in 2015’s big races. He has not won yet — scoring a handful of top-5 results — but he has created a team spirit he hopes will carry him through the year.
“Nacer has the legs to win, but we are here to set up something as a team,” Bouhanni’s Canadian teammate Dominique Rollin said in Oman last week.
“He’s willing to not go by himself in the final 2 kilometers of the sprint and to lose some races by trusting us, by making sure that we come along together first. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Rollin is in charge of leading the train into the final kilometers with Cyril Lemoine. After his work, he yields to Jonas Ahlstrand, Adrien Petit, and Geoffrey Soupe to lead Bouhanni to the finish line.
Bouhanni designed the train himself this winter when he left FDJ for Cofidis. The manager of the Pro Continental team, Yvon Sanquer, gave Bouhanni the freedom to select his men: he brought Rollin out of early retirement and had Soupe, his final leadout man, transfer with him from FDJ to Cofidis.
In Qatar and Oman, followers expected “The Boxer” to land his first win of the 2015 season. Instead, Norwegian and 2014 Milano-Sanremo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) dominated the sprints. Cofidis’ red train, however, remains confident.
“We still have some minor glitches to work out, but it’s a new team. A couple of guys have never done the leadout and I’m coming back,” Rollin said.
“It shows a great amount of confidence with what he’s trying to set up, by not doing his own thing and sticking without our leadout.
“It’ll pay off because he’ll be used to our work in the big races. That’s why we raced [Qatar and Oman] because it’s a good place to work and there’s some hard racing.”
In the wind-swept Middle East, the small and powerful Bouhanni appeared out of place. Instead of technical finals with turn after turn, the stages featured wind and roads that were long and straight.
Bouhanni navigated crashes and corners on the wet roads of Bari, Italy to win to his first grand tour stage last year in the Giro d’Italia. He picked up two more in that race ahead of the likes of Tyler Farrar, Giacomo Nizzolo, and Michael Matthews. He went on to the Vuelta a Espana, where he sprinted to two more wins ahead of Matthews, Peter Sagan, and John Degenkolb.
Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne will offer the first big test for Bouhanni’s new red train. To win, he will have to beat Kristoff, Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka), Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), and the classics riders that ride well in the often cold and windy Belgian countryside.