We caught up with FDJ sprinter Sebastien Chavanel after he returned from his first trip to the Middle East and the Tour of Oman. For a rider who’s more used to nights spent in French hotel chains, this was a week in the lap of luxury with plenty of enthusiastic support from the locals.
In theory, with four flat stages, this should have been an ideal event for one of FDJ’s team leaders, sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. But as we know in cycling, things don’t always go as one might hope and plan.
Unfortunately, teammate Thibaut Pinot was a DNS on day one thanks to a fever. Nonetheless, it looked to be a good event for FDJ with the four flat sprint stages and another two for the GC riders: the experienced Arnold Jeannesson and the younger, slightly built Kenny Elissonde.
Having won a stage at each of the Etoile de Besseges and Tour of Qatar, the team had recorded its first all-important victories of the 2014 season. But sprinters love to win and Bouhanni is no exception. However, in this race he faced sterner opposition from the in-form sprinters and sprint trains of Belgian powerhouses Lotto-Belisol and OPQS and Orica-GreenEDGE.
Stage 1: As Suwayq Castle to Naseem Garden
Lotto was the first team to signal its intent as it initiated the chase of the day’s early break, We gave them a hand, as did OPQS. In the nervous run in to the finish, OPQS looked to have it under control but they made a tactical error and opened the door for their main rivals, Lotto. Meanwhile, we were finding it hard to keep our sprint train together but, when we did, we rode up the inside. We’d left it a bit too late and ran out of road. Bouhanni finished fourth. He wasn’t happy but we had done some useful teamwork for the following stages.
Stage 2: Al Bustan to Quriyat
Another sprint stage and another similar scenario but, in the end, the strong headwind in the last 2km disrupted most teams’ sprint trains. I was a bit nervous after the day before because I wanted to do a good job for Nacer and the team. But I made a mistake and went to the right, not the left, of the pack and ended up riding into the wind, meaning I finished my pull on the front just after the flamme rouge – too early. It wasn’t good for me and Bouhanni finished fifth. After the race, Nacer said that we still had some adjustments to make to the train but that it should all come together in the following days. I’m happy that I’ll continue to be on the front of the sprint.
Stage 3: Bank Muscat to Al Bustan
This was another largely flat stage but with a series of climbs before the finish making it more difficult to control. My work was over with 6km to go as I led Nacer into the final climb. He’s okay with hills. He did well in the final sprint to overhaul some of the GC riders but Lotto’s Andre Greipel was stronger and picked up his second stage win. Nacer finished third. He said:
There was a small descent just before the false-flat to the finish and I wasn’t well-placed, only 10th. But I finished third and we have the means to do better.
Stage 4: Wadi Al Abiyad to Ministry of Housing (Boshar)
This was a stage for our GC riders, so a difficult one for the sprinters. Our leader was Jeannesson who was a bit disappointed with 26th place at the back of the leading group. I missed all the action at the front of the race, coming in 21 minutes down on stage winner Peter Sagan in the company of teammate and fellow sprinter Murilo Fischer.
Stage 5: BidBid to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain)
Today’s the queen stage which finished atop Green Mountain, a big climb. I was working early on for the GC guys Jeannesson and Elissonde who finished seventh and twelfth respectively. This was a much better result for Jeannesson in his first race of the season. The smiles were back on our faces. Nacer and I kept one another company and rode in together about 12 minutes down on stage winner, race leader and defending champion Chris Froome.
Stage 6: As Sifah to Matrah Corniche
Nacer had won this final stage in last year’s race, so we were looking forward to this one but it was very fast for the last 90 km. The scenario was not dissimilar to the first two stages and we suffered once more in the wind. The sprint for the line was sure, I did a great job for Nacer but he finished second just behind Greipel (again).
— Sébastien Chavanel (@sebchavanel) 23 Février 2014
Maybe we should leave the last word to Nacer himself who recently confessed in an article in L’Equipe that he wasn’t easy to live with!
— Equipe FDJ.fr (@EquipeFDJ) 24 Février 2014
Watch out for more Guest Voice updates from Sebastien Chavanel during the course of the season.