The Giro d’Italia may be over but the warm pink – or in this case red – glow persists. Let’s look back on the Giro through the eyes of our man in the peloton: Nacer Bouhanni‘s poisson pilote Sebastien Chavanel. Most days he was fighting to beat the time cut but on a few magnificent days he helped Nacer gather stage wins and points in pursuit of the maglia rossa – FDJ’s #FightForRed.
The team was committed to stage wins for Nacer Bouhanni. My job was to look after Nacer, lead him out in the sprint stages and ensure he made the time cut on the others.
Stage 2: The first sprint stage, and the team made every effort to protect Nacer and keep him out of the wind but we couldn’t protect him from the cold, wet weather. We had to pace him back up to the bunch after a puncture with 35km to go. We lost Laurent Pichon in the run in to the line so I dropped Nacer off earlier than planned but he was well placed (second) into the last turn with 300 metres to go and sitting on an Orica-GreenEDGE wheel.
He opened up the sprint, maybe a bit too early, with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) sitting on his wheel. Nacer had to check his speed as the Orica rider blocked him with 50 metres to go allowing Kittel to power past him to take the victory. Naturally, we were all disappointed but Nacer was encouraged by his second place and, although we’d come to the race to get stage wins, he was already thinking about the points jersey. He now had 40 points in the bag
Stage 3: Another stage marked by wind and rain. There were plenty of crashes and everyone was very nervous. We were too far back when we hit the flamme rouge and, although Nacer was well placed in the final 500 metres, we’d used up too much energy and had to watch Kittel once more surge past. Still, another 25 points from Nacer’s fifth place.
Stage 4: Our tormentor Kittel went down with a fever and left the race. We were now on Italian soil but we’d brought the rain and cold with us from Ireland. Rain which turned the dusty roads of Bari into a skating rink – conditions were truly treacherous.
The race was neutralised until the final circuit where Nacer suffered yet another puncture, his second of the day. We thought that Lady Luck had deserted us again, but no, we made it back into the peloton with less than 3km to go. Despite the neutralisation, there had been riders falling throughout the stage and we’d tried to keep Nacer safe. An Astana rider went down but Johan Le Bon managed to steer Nacer out of the path of danger and back into the game.
This time Nacer won the stage and took possession of the red points jersey. Another 50 points gained and #FightForRed was on! The team were delighted. This was Nacer’s maiden victory in a grand tour and the first win by a Frenchman at the Giro since John Gadret in 2011.
Stage 5: More rain and I stayed close to Nacer to ensure we made the time cut and avoided any crashes. We were in survival mode. Nacer lost the points jersey to Cannondale’s Elia Viviani who’d gotten into the early break and picked up precious intermediate sprint points.
Stage 7: We were over three minutes back on the last climb but the whole team worked to pull back the break, even Pichon who was still feeling the effects of yesterday’s fall. We’d studied the route and knew we needed to be well placed going into the final series of bends.
Everything went like clockwork. Murilo Fischer led Nacer out while I stayed on his wheel to prevent anyone latching onto it. Nacer risked everything to come off Luka Mezgec‘s (Giant-Shimano) wheel to squeeze through a gap just centimetres from the barrier to cross the line and take his second victory, a further 51 points and, once more, the maglia rossa.
Stage 10: We’d studied the final 10km of this stage in detail. We each knew what we had to do. In the final few kilometres we lost position thanks to the pace set by Sky but I then rode the best 1,400 metres I’ve ever ridden. I brought Nacer back into position, we avoided the crash and he latched onto Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek).
With 75 metres to go he kicked and passed Nizzolo and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) to record his third victory and a further 54 points. This imbued him and the team with a real sense of belief – we could win the points jersey. Nacer really was the strongest sprinter still in the race. The whole team was on cloud nine.
— EquipeFDJ.fr (@EquipeFDJ) 3 Juin2014
Stage 13: We were sitting pretty in the points jersey and happy to defend it. But no one wanted to work with us, so we called their bluff and stopped trying to pull back the break with around 15km remaining. If the other sprint teams wanted to win either the jersey or the stage, they would have to make the effort today. Nacer was fourth, best of the rest and he pocketed another 31 points, consolidating his hold on the red jersey.
— Thomas Bourgeois Equipe FDJ (@btomy02) 23 Mai 2014
Stage 21: The focus of today was the maglia rossa. We’d already won three stages, the important thing was the jersey. Nacer was feeling the effects of the day before [on Monte Zoncolan – Ed] and, though he contested the sprint and jousted with Mezgec in the final kilometres, his fourth-place finish was enough to secure the jersey with 291 points. The first time a Frenchman had won it since Laurent Jalabert 15 years ago!
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) 5 Juin 2014
Our man in the peloton is now taking a well-earned break along with his better half – enjoy!