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After his team had worked hard to bring back a strong break, Bouhanni powered to victory in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour de l’Ain; he is also the new leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti

NACER BOUHANNI

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SAMUEL DUMOULIN

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TOUR DE L'AIN

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12.08.2015 @ 17:36 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After crashing out of the Tour de France, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) has proved that he is fully ready to make amends in the Vuelta a Espana by winning the first stage of the Tour de l’Ain. After his team had worked very hard to bring an early break back, he beat Anthony Maldonado (Auber 93) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) in a bunch sprint to take both the stage victory and the leader’s jersey.

 

The 2015 season has been one to forget for Nacer Bouhanni. After a slow start to the season, he seemed to be in great condition at the Criterium du Dauphiné where he won two stages.

 

However, his bad luck continued in the French championships where he crashed just metres from the line, briefly endangering his Tour de France participation. He managed to recover in time for the start but another tumble forced him to leave the race before he had had a single chance to sprint.

 

Now his goal is to turn his season around in the Vuelta a Espana where he won two stages in 2014 and it seems that he is fully ready for the challenge. Less than two weeks ago he won the tough uphill sprint in the Circuit de Getxo and today he took another sprint win in the first stage of the Tour de l’Ain.

 

Being the big-name sprinter in the race, Bouhanni had to use his team to bring back a strong break that turned out to be very hard to catch. Reduced to a trio, the escapees still had a 50-second advantage with 10km to go and it was 35 seconds five kilometres later.

 

Cofidis accomplished their mission as they caught the break less than 2km from the finish and from there all was set for another Bouhanni show. The sprinter lived up to expectations as he held off Anthony Maldonado and Samuel Dumoulin in the final dash to the line.

 

Bouhanni had already shown his good condition in yesterday’s prologue where he was ninth, just 5 seconds behind Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo). The Dutchman did his best to defend his lead and sprinted to fourth on the stage but with 10 bonus seconds for Bouhanni, the Cofidis rider is the new leader of the race.

 

He will try to defend that position in stage 2 which should give him a final chance to take a stage win in the race. With no categorized climbs, it is a completely flat course that is tailor-made for another bunch sprint.

 

A flat stage

After the prologue, the sprinters were expected to shine in stage 1 which brought the riders over 162km from La Plaine Tonique to Saint Vulbas. There was an early category 4 climb but otherwise the course was completely flat, meaning that a bunch sprint was the expected outcome. In the end, the riders did one lap of a 20.2km finishing circuit.

 

With a temperature of 36 degrees, it was brutally hot when the riders rolled out for the neutral ride. All riders who finished the prologue were present.

 

A fast start

Despite everything pointing to a sprint finish, it was a very fast start with lots of attacks and it took around 15 minutes of attacking before Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Björn Thurau (Bora-Argon 18), Jeremy Maison (France), Vadim Galeyev (Vino 4-Ever), Julien El Fares (Marseille) and Pierre Gouault (Auber 93) got clear. They had to fight a bit to get an advantage but the peloton finally slowed down.

 

While Alo Jakin (Auber 93) rejoined the peloton after a puncture, the gap went out to 1.50 at the 17km mark but Cofidis and LottoNL-Jumbo had already hit the front. Nonetheless, the escapees managed to extend their advantage to 2.30 after 23km of racing.

 

Galeyev is dropped

Cofidis as now on complete control and they kept the gap between 2.30 and 3.00 for a long time. Meanwhile, Galeyev was dropped from the break and he was quickly brought back by the peloton.

 

Cofidis slowed down a bit and allowed the gap to go out to 3.17 before they hit the only climb of the day. Here Gouault became the first KOM leader as he beat El Fares and Cousin in the sprint.

 

Cofidis in control

With 115km to go, the gap was 2.55 and moments later Cousin beat El Fares and Couault in the first intermediate sprint. Meanwhile, his teammate Antoine Duchesne (Europcar) rejoined the peloton after a puncture.

 

Cofidis kept the gap between 2.30 and 3.00 and even allowed it to grow a bit as they went through the ffed zone with 75km to go. As they started to ride again, the escapees were 3.35 ahead.

 

Insect takes El Fares out of contention

With 55km to go, Cofidis had reduced the gap to 3 minutes and it was down to 2.05 when Cousin beat Thurau and Gouault in the second intermediate sprint with 50km to go. This was the signal for the French team to increase the speed and they had brought the gap down to 1.40 as they entered the final 40km.

 

El Fares was stung by an insect and after receiving medical treatment he was dropped from the break. However, the escapees were not suffering from the loss of manpower as they managed to extend their advantage to 2.05 when they entered the final 30km.

 

The break is caught

At the start of their lap of the finishing circuit, the gap was still 1.45 and now Cofidis were getting some help from more teams. That had an effect as the gap was only 1.02 when they entered the final 15km.

 

With 10km to go, Maison was dropped from the break while the front trio still had a 50-second advantage. Meanwhile, FDJ sprinter Marc Sarreau was taken out of contention by a puncture.

 

Cofidis was now in complete control and had a hard time closing the gap which was 35 seconds with 5km to go. With 2.5km to go, it was down to 10 seconds though and the break was caught before they passed the flamme rouge, setting the scene for another Bouhanni win.

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