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.

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Bouhanni and Matthews during Stage 2 of Paris-Nice, 2016 (Credit: Tim De Waele)
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Getty Images captured the Paris-Nice incident, 2016
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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!

 

Thrills and Spills?

Freewheeling Opinion Column by The Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

9th July 2017

Today I watched in absolute horror as Richie Porte rode off the road, saved himself from cycling off into a ravine, before careering into the path of fellow riders, hitting a brick wall, and then being run over by Dan Martin.  I’m pretty sure it was the worst crash I’ve witnessed live on TV.  I was too young to have seen Fabio Casartelli’s terrible crash on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour de France, and unable to watch the live coverage of the Giro in 2011 when Wouter Weylandt came down during Stage 3.

What I do know about Wouter Weylandt’s crash was the absolute stomach-churning horror as the cameras stayed on him, when it was plainly obvious that something beyond terrible had happened. David Millar writes in his second book, The Racer, about the telephone call he received from his wife immediately after he finished Stage 3 of the Giro, on a ride which took him into the race lead. Having been on the road chasing the dream of wearing the pink jersey, Millar was not aware of what had happened when he took the call. “There was a missed call from Nicole. I called back immediately. She was crying when she answered ‘why are they showing it on TV? They can’t do that….there was blood everywhere and he wasn’t moving’. I’d rarely heard Nicole so upset. ‘They wouldn’t stop filming it. Why would they do that? I don’t understand why they’d do that. What about his girlfriend?’” .

Those words flashed through my mind as I watched today’s horror crash. The camera stayed on Richie as he lay on the road, lingering far too long. What if his family are watching? At that point – and even to some extent now, as I write several hours later – nobody had any idea if he was okay. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious, or if he was moving. I couldn’t watch any more. If I felt like that, how must his family feel? The crash was replayed and replayed – real time speed, slow motion….how many times did we need to see it? Each replay made the accident seem more hideous than the last. I had to look away.

Then there were shots of the Tour’s medical officer attending to Richie, a moment that was incredibly intimate and therefore rather disturbing to watch. Richie having a neck brace fitted, Richie being lifted into the back of an ambulance by a team of paramedics. You realise later that someone was standing there, camera in hand, letting it roll to capture images that will be beamed across the globe. Does viewing the scene through a lens make you feel apart from the situation, detached from reality? Does it make the whole thing seem like some crazy film or video game with HD graphics? Well I watched it at a true distance, through a screen, and I didn’t feel at all detached or apart from what was happening. I just felt sick.

Crashes were numerous today, on Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France. Are incidents such as that involving Richie Porte really ‘entertainment’? Cav’s crash earlier in the race was also too painful to watch, and is still playing out over and over again in various vine loops and GIFs on social media. At what point do the viewers and fans say ‘enough is enough’? Like David Millar’s wife Nicole pointed out, these racers have family members and friends watching. Is it right that Wouter Weylandt’s Mum, Dad, and friends had to watch, helpless, as their son and best mate lay on the road, clearly in a terrible situation?Where is the line drawn between entertainment and real life in the world of live sport?