Characters of the Peloton, The Bad Boy

Part Two of a mini series by Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

Since the Tour lost two riders in *that* controversial incident on Stage 4, the peloton has been down two of its biggest characters.  I went on a mission to find out who could step up to the mark since the loss of…well, Mark. And Peter.

The Bad Boy, Nacer Bouhanni

Nacer Bouhanni likes to live life on the edge – the edge of being mildly annoyed and full on I’m-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face. It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that he used to be a boxer, and plans to continue with that profession when he’s hung up his bike and helmet.

Bouhanni wasn’t at the Tour last year – he’d been involved in an ‘incident’ the night before the French National Championships. His team, Cofidis issued a carefully worded statement which claimed that Bouhanni had ‘suffered incessant noise at night from individuals present at the adjoining hotel room. Nacer asked them to stop the nuisance and was then assaulted by these alcoholic people’. His I’m-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face side appears to have taken over, and he punched someone in the face. Cofidis politely explained that ‘he was wounded in his hand and taken to the emergency room for four stitches’. L’Equipe reported that he’d broken someone’s tooth; later reports claimed that his adversary had lost two teeth. Cofidis initially explained that, whilst he hadn’t been able to compete the National Championships, his Tour preparation wasn’t in jeopardy. This proved erroneous, as eventually Bouhanni had to undergo surgery on the injured hand.

Bouhanni’s boxing background also follows him onto the bike. He was disqualified from a 2016 Paris-Nice stage win for irregular sprinting – he’d deviated from his line to swerve into Michael Matthews, who he then leaned heavily on, with both riders somehow remaining upright. Bouhanni was also involved in a controversial finishing sprint at the 2016 Dauphiné, where several clashes between the Cofidis and Katusha lead-out trains were reported. Bouhanni headbutted rival Alexandre Kristoff in a chaotic run to the line which saw at least one other headbutt from the Cofidis team, and Katusha employing similar combative tactics against Orica-Scott.

bouhannidewaele_paris_nice_710_670
Bouhanni and Matthews during Stage 2 of Paris-Nice, 2016 (Credit: Tim De Waele)
bouhannigetty_paris_nice_514306226_670
Getty Images captured the Paris-Nice incident, 2016
nacer-bouhanni-tour-de-france-cofidis_3492156
The Bad Boy of the peloton? (Credit: Sky Sports)

Of course, anyone watching the Tour this year will be aware of Bouhanni’s temperament, with the Frenchman earning a fine and time penalty for throwing a punch at Quickstep-Floors rider Jack Bauer during the run-in to the finish line on Stage 10. The decision to dock the Cofidis rider one minute was almost laughable given that he’s way down in the overall standings and isn’t racing for GC. It was even more controversial in the wake of the Sagan-Cavendish incident, which could have been unintentional. Punching someone during a high speed bike race arguably endangers fellow riders much more than Sagan extending an elbow to balance himself – if that is indeed what happened.

This year, the battles between sprinters continued long after they dismounted from their bikes. FDJ’s Jacopo Guarnieri called the Cofidis rider an ‘idiot’ and a ‘dick’ after Guarnieri claimed that Bouhanni deliberately hit his handlebars during the Stage 6 sprint. ‘He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him as well. He’s a dick, he’s always making people crash. We know he’s like that. He’s probably upset with us because he always loses’.

Whether the Frenchman deserves his reputation as the bad boy of the peloton probably depends on whether or not you’re a fan of aggressive sprints, and Cofidis have repeatedly been at pains to explain that Bouhanni reacts to indiscretions against him and doesn’t lash out indiscriminately. Indeed, Jack Bauer didn’t seem overly concerned about Bouhanni’s aggression towards him during Stage 10. ‘There was a little bit of contact, but there was no incident in my eyes’.

A quick glance at his Twitter feed gives as good indication of Nacer’s personality – a lot of photos of him winning stages, usually a thanks to his team, some boxing related re-tweets, and videos of the man himself throwing some – legitimate – punches with gloves on, plus the odd retort in answer to choice words from rivals. One thing is for sure -when Nacer is racing, it won’t be boring!

 

Cav’s Catalogue of Unfortunate Events

Following the controversial crash at the end of Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France, which ended the involvement of both Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in this year’s race, Freewheeling looks back at some of Cav’s other race-changing incidents….

  1. A Stain on the Jersey

     

     

    mark_cavendish_1446098ctelegraph

     

    After winning an amazing 6 stages at the 2009 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish left Paris without having secured the prize he most coveted – the green jersey. Despite being on top form, Cav’s designs on the maillot vert came to an abrupt – and controversial – end, when he was disqualified from the Stage 14 results, deemed to have been riding dangerously by steering his rival Thor Hushovd into the barriers.

    Cav complained loudly about his disqualification, believing that Hushovd had not played fair by making an official complaint about the Stage 14 sprint. The dispute between the two riders rumbled on throughout the rest of the Tour, with Cav telling the press “this guy thinks so highly of himself that he thinks I’m trying to cheat to beat him…I said to him ‘you’ve won the green jersey, but that’s always going to have a stain on it’…”

  1. Flicking the V in Romandie

     

    v romandie

    After Cav’s 6 wins in the ’09 Tour, the lack of the green jersey in Paris started to simmer below the surface for Cav and his team, and they were not ashamed to be vocal about targetting the maillot vert for the 2010 Tour de France.

    Following the usual pattern however, Cav’s path to glory was far from smooth, and his claim on the jersey looked to be on shaky ground from the off. Cavendish contracted a nasty dental infection in the off-season, which impacted upon his ability to train during the winter months, when most pro racers are laying the foundations for the rest of their season. Cav and cohorts were understandably frustrated going into the early season races, concerned about the impact his truncated training period would have upon his Tour de France ambitions. Some sections of the media began questioning Cav’s commitment, and suggestions were circulating that Mark’s volatile emotional responses – to racing, to questions from journalists, to the actions and statements of his rivals – were hampering his ability to reach his undoubted potential.

     

    The press were keen to focus on what some saw as a question mark over his form, given Cav’s inability to defend his Milan-San Remo title in March 2010. His rocky relationship with team mate and fellow sprinter, Andre Greipel, was generating the column inches which, in a perfect world, would have been filled with a host of early season wins. Cav felt that the media had failed to understand the nuances of pro racing and the impact his dental problems had had upon his training and early races. All these ingredients were swirling around in the pot when Cavendish was selected by his team HTC-Columbia for the Tour de Romandie, a stage race in late April.

    Storming to a typically impressive sprint victory in Stage 2 in Switzerland, as he crossed the line in Fribourg, Cav flicked the V sign, the gesture clearly aimed at his critics in the media. In case anyone was confused, Cav told the post-stage press conference that he wanted “to send a message to commentators and journalists who don’t know jack shit about cycling”.

    Cav raced Stage 3 – a time trial in which he finished 139th, however HTC-Columbia pulled him from the race soon after, citing “inappropriate actions” when flicking the V in Fribourg. Cav was forced to make a public apology, “I did want to make a statement to my critics but realise that making rude gestures on the finish line is not the best way to do that”.

  1. Ragin’ Renshaw

    headbutt_1680227ceurosport

    Following his expulsion from the Tour de Romandie at the end of April 2010, Cavendish remained undeterred in his green jersey ambitions. The HTC-Columbia team had perfected the art of the lead-out, with the Aussie Mark Renshaw as the last link in the chain, the man to take Cav up the final few metres towards the finish line before swinging away and allowing Cav to leap from his slipstream and dart towards the line with his incredible power and natural sprinting ability. HTC-Columbia’s lead-out was the envy of every sprinter in the peloton, a well-oiled-and-well-drilled machine, with tactical prowess and the ability to accurately read race situations before allowing Cav to power to the line with a frightening acceleration. Going into the 2010 Tour de France, you’d have been mad to suggest that the maillot vert had a destination other than the Manxman from HTC-Columbia.

    If you listen to Cav’s post-race interviews, you’ll notice something – a sentiment that he’ll repeat no matter the outcome of the stage. Mark Cavendish will always thank his entire team for their role in delivering him to the line, their individual roles as crucial as Cav’s sprinting skill. So it was a bit of a concern (to say the least) when Renshaw was expelled from the 2010 Tour de France after a headbutting incident during a bunch sprint to the finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.

    Renshaw was leading Cav to the finishing metres of Stage 11; the HTC-Columbia train having worked to perfection. Other teams had tried to match HTC-Columbia’s organisation, and everything was set up for an exciting bunch sprint. The Garmin- Transitions team were working for their sprinter Tyler Farrar, who had his lead-out man, New Zealander Julian Dean, ride up alongside Renshaw as the riders hit the 400m to go mark. In the frantic and frenetic final moments of the finishing straight, Renshaw headbutted Julian Dean – not once, not twice, but three times, before cutting into Farrar’s race line, impeding his sprint. “He carried on after (the headbutting incident) and came across Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage” Dean said after Renshaw’s disqualification. “It’s dangerous behaviour, and what we do is already dangerous anyway…if there had been a crash it would have caused some guys serious damage”.

    Despite the antics in the bunch, Cav took the stage victory, with Renshaw’s result immediately declassified. Race officials reviewed the footage of the final 400 metres, and deemed Renshaw’s actions unacceptable. “We have decided to throw him off the race” stated race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena”.

 

Photo credits: Top – Getty/Tour of California, Stain on the Jersey – Telegraph, Flicking the V – Telegraph, Ragin’ Renshaw – Eurosport/ASO

GB’s World Championship Teams Announced

The teams Great Britain will be taking to next month’s UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar, have been confirmed as follows:  –

Elite Men

Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Adam Blythe, Alex Dowsett, Luke Rowe, Scott Thwaites, Dan McLay and Ben Swift.

Eight riders from the list will make the final confirmation, with two also competing in the individual time trial.

Elite Women

Lizzie Deignan (formerly Armitstead) Hannah Barnes, Alice Barnes, Dani King, Laura Massey, Annasley Park, Abby-Mae Parkinson, Hayley Simmonds and Eileen Roe.

Hannah Barnes and Hayley Simmonds will compete in the women’s individual time trial.

U23 Men

Gabriel Cullaigh, Scott Davies, Jon Dibben, Chris Latham, Tao Geoghegan Hart and James Shaw.

Two of the above will be selected for the U23 time trial.

WorldTour Woes

After five stage wins in this year’s Tour de France and a place on the top step of the podium with Steve Cummings in the Tour of Britain, cycling fans have grown used to seeing Team Dimension Data accomplish epic feats in the saddle throughout 2016.  The South African team; home to Mark Cavendish, lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw, and the aforementioned British ace Steve Cummings, have become fan favourites with their top level riders and charitable ethos – riding for Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s South African programme, and promoting the Bicycles Change Lives hashtag.  Yet the team’s WorldTour licence is under serious threat as a result of a feud between the sport’s governing body the UCI and the company behind races such as the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, ASO.

ASO announced last year that it would pull all its races from the UCI WorldTour in 2017, as the long running battle between both organisations rumbled ever onward.  Removing the Tour de France from the UCI WorldTour classification would mean the event would go ahead as part of Europe Tour, classified as an Hors Classe (HC) event.  HC races cannot include a field of over 70% WorldTour teams, which, in a 22 team Tour de France, would mean only 15 WorldTour teams could enter.  The remaining teams would be invited by ASO from the Pro Continental classification.

The 2016 Tour de France saw 18 WorldTour teams secure automatic entry into the race.  Reclassifying the world’s most prestigious bike race as an HC event would mean that at least 3 top class teams would be unable to secure a Tour slot, potentially putting sponsorship in jeopardy.  In response to ongoing problems, the number of UCI WorldTour licences are being cut from 18 to 17 for the 2017 season, which is the cause of Team Dimension Data’s woes.

Currently, the South Africa based team lies in 18th place in the team rankings, despite a successful 2016 season for its WorldTour debut.  The team ranking positions are determined by adding up the total points of the top five riders within the team, taking the points from the WorldTour individual ranking system. Despite a successful season clocking up over 28 victories, only 9 of these will currently count towards the rankings, as the majority of wins came from races which are not part of the WorldTour series – including Steve Cummings’ yellow jersey at the Tour of Britain.

The five stage wins that Dimension Data clocked up at this year’s Tour de France, arguably putting the team second behind only Team Sky in terms of Tour performance, did not add enough points to the overall total, due to the somewhat bizarre system of allocation.  A top ten finish in the GC at the TdF can see a rider awarded 50 points, whereas a stage win will only rack up 20.

Despite Tinkoff and IAM Cycling departing the scene at the close of the 2016 season, two Pro Continental teams are likely to be moving up to take up the vacant spots in the WorldTour grouping.  Bora-Hansgrohe – star signing for 2017 Peter Sagan – will benefit from said rider’s lead in the individual WorldTour rankings.  The other team looking for a WorldTour spot are the Bahrain Cycling Team, who have managed to secure Vincenzo Nibali for the forthcoming season.  This leaves Dimension Data and Lampre scrapping it out for the 17th place as the racing season draws to a close.

It seems a shame that both ASO and the UCI can’t come to an agreement which will benefit the sport – with sponsors less likely to lend financial support to teams that might not make WorldTour races, riders will feel less secure about their futures.  Considering the huge successes that Team Dimension Data have seen throughout 2016, it is hard not to feel aghast at the suggestion that their one season as a WorldTour team will also be their last.  With a handful of WorldTour races yet to be run before the end of the year, and a few riders playing their cards close to their chest in terms of new signings, it’s far from a done deal.  Let’s hope for a last minute reprieve for Team Dimension Data’s sake, as well as for the good of cycling as a whole.