Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues Cycling

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues

He missed the Tour de France once due to an altercation with some intoxicated individuals at a hotel, pushed fellow sprinters into fences on several occasions, and even had a confrontation with a jeweler. One could write a book chronicling all the controversial moments in the career of the recently retired Nacer Bouhanni, and that's exactly what has done in their longread.

Bouhanni turned professional in 2011 at the age of 20 and was sent to the multi-day race in Gabon, the 'Tropicale Amissa Bongo,' in January. He immediately claimed victory in the third stage, sprinting ahead of a group of eleven riders. Giovanni Bernaudeau and Mathieu Claude finished behind him, with Sylvain Chavanel taking fourth place. However, he wouldn't win another race that year, and the general cycling public didn't truly become familiar with the young Frenchman until 2012.

French champion Bouhanni may go to the Vuelta

In that year, Bouhanni became the French road champion, sprinting to victory ahead of his teammate Démare and Adrien Petit. Démare, in his first year as a professional, couldn't match Bouhanni's speed at that time. FDJ decided to send the newly crowned national champion to a major tour for the first time: the Vuelta a España. Although he didn't make it to Madrid, he demonstrated his ability to compete at the highest level. He finished fourth in sprints to Logroño and Alcañiz, both won by John Degenkolb. In the hill stage to Barcelona, he secured a seventh-place finish, and the following day, he achieved his best result of the tour with a second-place finish in Sanxenxo, once again trailing behind Degenkolb.

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues
French champion Bouhanni (right) cannot beat John Degenkolb (center) in the 2012 Vuelta

Bouhanni was poised for a breakthrough and eagerly sought a significant international victory in 2013. He had already achieved one in March, during Paris-Nice, while still wearing his French champion's jersey. He secured the win in the first stage-in-line, surpassing competitors like Alessandro Petacchi and Elia Viviani. This success set the stage for his participation in his second grand tour: the Giro d'Italia. In Italy, he achieved third, fourth, and second-place finishes, but a victory continued to elude him as he consistently faced Mark Cavendish.

The young Frenchman was also selected for the Tour de France with hopes of showcasing his strengths on cycling's grandest stage. However, the 2013 Tour proved to be a complete disaster for both him and his entire team. Bouhanni fell ill and was forced to withdraw after just six days, unable to participate in any sprints. Even the classification leader, Thibaut Pinot, could not make it to Paris, as he withdrew due to issues with descending anxiety.

Bouhanni and Démare vie for a spot in the FDJ Tour selection

A Tour to forget quickly, indeed, and Bouhanni followed suit. He managed to secure two stages in the WorldTour in China and claimed victory in numerous French semi-classics, including the Tour de Vendée. 2013 also marked the year when Démare began to ascend within FDJ. While Bouhanni was competing against Cavendish at the highest level in Italy, his teammate Arnaud Démare, a year his junior, was participating in a multi-day event in Dunkirk. Démare triumphed in three stages there. Later that same year, Démare celebrated his first WorldTour victory by winning a stage in the Tour of Switzerland. He swiftly followed it up with another stage win in the Eneco Tour, surpassing riders like Tyler Farrar and André Greipel.

Both Bouhanni and Démare aspired to participate in the Tour de France in 2014, but there was only room for one sprinter on the team with limited spots. Bouhanni sought redemption following his disappointing attempt in 2013, showing in the Giro d'Italia that he had made significant progress towards the world's top echelon. He clinched three stages and the points classification in Italy. Meanwhile, Démare continued to excel in Dunkirk. Both riders were in peak form and on the pre-selection list. However, only one could be selected, and the decision fell to Madiot: Démare earned the opportunity to make his debut in La Grande Boucle, while Bouhanni remained at home.

Madiot chooses Démare, Bouhanni is overlooked

It was a crucial decision, particularly because Démare and Bouhanni had a longstanding inability to cooperate. Démare declared in May 2014, even before the final selection, that they couldn't coexist as team leaders. "We have vastly different personalities and can't be on the Tour together. A win by one of us wouldn't benefit the other in any way. He has already made it clear he wouldn't support me," as reported by Voix du Nord.

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues
Bouhanni had many successes in the FDJ shirt, but was never the absolute sprint leader

Bouhanni no longer wanted to ride for FDJ. His contract was nearing its end, and he believed the team favored Démare. The Tour selection was the last straw for Bouhanni, pushing him to search for a new team, especially after missing out on Milan-Sanremo. He did, however, participate in the Vuelta and secured victory in two stages. It was time for a change as he transitioned to a new team, moving to Cofidis.

Bouhanni misses Tour de France 2016 due to a nighttime fight in a hotel

Released from the rivalry, Bouhanni achieved ten victories for his new team in 2015. However, the Tour de France ended in disappointment due to a crash in stage five, and he couldn't secure a stage win in the Vuelta a España. Nevertheless, he did claim two stages in the Critérium du Dauphiné and finished sixth in his debut at Milan-Sanremo. It was a solid year without any major outliers.

IIn 2016, he didn't even make it to the start of the Tour de France. Bouhanni found himself in an altercation the night before the French championship, resulting in a hand injury that required stitches in four places. Unfortunately, the procedure wasn't done meticulously, leading to the need for surgery. Consequently, he had to skip the Tour, although Cofidis continued to support the sprinter. He claimed that the altercation arose from his frustration with excessively loud, intoxicated guests at the hotel, "I am the victim," he said himself.

However, Bouhanni's combative nature had caused issues in the past. Earlier in 2016, he lost his temper when attempting to enter a jewelry store. The jeweler refused him entry due to his wearing of a cap, leading to a heated exchange. Bouhanni was reported to have pounded on the door and shouted, "Don't you guys know who I am? I'm a millionaire from Nancy!" He also denied that he banged on the door.

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues

'There are parallels between sprinters and boxers. Both need to be aggressive'

Nacer Bouhanni

Bouhanni had a passion for boxing, which he pursued as a hobby alongside his cycling career. He expressed on several occasions his desire to transition into professional boxing once his cycling career concluded. When he crossed the finish line first, you could often expect a victory celebration with a boxing-inspired gesture. However, if he didn't win, he would display his frustration by almost breaking his handlebars in half. In a video by Orbea. "Both have to be aggressive. It's akin to a boxer knocking out another boxer."

As Bouhanni matured, he began to receive more negative attention in the news. During the 2016 Paris-Nice, he earned the ire of Michael Matthews when he aggressively pushed him into the barriers during a full sprint. The Australian narrowly avoided a crash. In the 2017 Tour de France, he was fined for beating a Quick-Step rider. He did make it to Paris for the first time, but finished zero times in the top three. That same year, by the way, he wanted to fight with other cyclists after the finish of Paris-Bourges.

Form crisis for Bouhanni in 2018 and 2019, exit from Cofidis

The Frenchman also gradually faced a dip in his form, which didn't align with Cofidis team boss Cédric Vasseur's expectations. Consequently, Vasseur made the decision to exclude Bouhanni from the 2018 Tour de France roster and sent him to the Vuelta a España instead. In Spain, Bouhanni managed to secure a stage win, but Vasseur remained unconvinced. By the end of the season, Vasseur emphasized that Bouhanni needed to step up his performance in 2019, stating, "It's not just about having the highest salary. To be an effective team leader, you need to deliver a lot more," as he told CyclingNews. However, in 2019, Bouhanni failed to secure a single race victory and was not selected for any of the Grand Tours. Eventually, he was allowed to depart from Cofidis.

Bouhanni signed with Arkéa-Samsic for the 2020 season, where he made an immediate recovery. Before the season was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bouhanni had already notched two victories and achieved notable sprint results in Paris-Nice. In the autumn, he added two more French one-day race wins to his tally, rekindling his hopes of returning to the Tour de France in 2021.

Nacer Bouhanni: the sprinter who fought with drunkards and repeatedly crashed into his colleagues
Once at Arkéa-Samsic, Bouhanni starts winning again

Many places of honor for Bouhanni at the 2021 Tour de France

Bouhanni's career was marked by controversy at every level. First, it was his rivalry with Démare, then it was his involvement in fights and increasingly hazardous sprints. The incident with Matthews wasn't the sole instance of Bouhanni's contentious actions, as his aggressive or confrontational mentality came to the forefront on various occasions. In the Cholet-Pays de la Loire classic, he pushed Jake Stewart into the fences, resulting in Bouhanni's disqualification.

Despite his victory count remaining at zero in early July, he was still included in the Tour de France lineup. Arkéa-Samsic was hoping for a miracle, but that miracle didn't materialize. Bouhanni's Tour was characterized by consistency, with second-place, third-place, and fourth-place finishes, but he couldn't break Mark Cavendish's dominance. His 2021 season concluded without a win, and he never returned to the Tour de France.

Neck fracture at Tour of Turkey for Bouhanni brings early end to career

Indeed, the final downward spiral had begun. In 2022, he did manage to secure a victory at the Roue Tourangelle, but a severe crash during the Tour of Turkey marked a turning point in his season. This incident occurred in April, but it effectively ended his year. Suffering a neck injury in Turkey, he faced a tremendous struggle to regain his previous form.

He did make a comeback to competitive cycling in 2023, achieving a sixth-place finish in Milan-Turin. He also secured another podium finish in a stage of the Tour de l'Ain. However, his performance tanked. "Cycling has always been my great passion, but after my serious fall, it became increasingly challenging. I could no longer reach my previous level. All in all, my career had its share of highs and lows, but I want to cherish the highs the most," he shared on Instagram. Arkéa-Samsic needed a new sprinter and didn't hesitate; they recruited Bouhanni's arch-rival, Démare. Ironically, this development neatly closes the circle.

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