Nacer Bouhanni of FDR.fj took the sprint in Foligno today to win Stage 7 of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, his second stage win of the race and one that puts him back into the red jersey of points classifcation leader. Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek Factory Racing was second, with Luka Mezgec of Giant-Shimano third. Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge remains in the race lead.
With many riders bruised and battered after yesterday's big crash towards the end of the stage to Montecassino, a break was allowed to go on the day's first climb, but with no further opportunity for the sprinters until Tuesday's Stage 10 in Modena, the five escapees were never going to be allowed to stay away.
The quintet - Robinson Chalapud of Colombia, Garmin-Sharp's Nathan Haas, Lampre-Merida's Winner Anacona, Bjorn Thurau of Europcar and Bardiani-CSF's Nicola Boem- had enjoyed an advantage of more than 5 minutes at one point on the 214km stage from Frosinone, but were reeled in with 5km left.
That set the scene for a hard fought sprint finish, with Bouhanni coming through strongly on the right to add to his victory in Bari on Tuesday.
Following his latest victory, Bouhanni said: "I wanted to start my sprint as we came out of the bend, but I was on the right hand side and Matthews and NIzzolo closed the door to my left. I had to go right, saw a little gap, and managed to make my way through.
“I took a point for 5th place in the intermediate sprint today, so in the mountain stages tomorrow and the day after, I’ll go for the intermediate sprints and keep the [points] jersey as long as I possibly can.”
On being compared to the world's top two current sprinters, he said: “[Marcel] Kittel and [Mark] Cavendish are great sprinters. I’m only 23, and my goal is always to improve, not just from season to season, but every time I go out training. I try to learn from my mistakes, and I try never to make the same one twice. But I don’t think I can be compared with Kittel and Cavendish: their careers are very different from mine.”
Bouahnni was also asked how he motivates himself for sprint finishes, and replied: “Well, I’m a big Mike Tyson fan, so sometimes I watch old videos of his fights.”
Matthews was on the podium for the sixth successive stage to be presented with the race leader's maglia rosa, and with a tough stage in prospect in Saturday ackowledged afterwards that it was likely to be the last time he would be in it.
He said: “I haven’t really looked in detail at tomorrow’s stage, but we really knew this would be the last day, if we could keep [the jersey] to this point. It’s going to be pretty sad to lose it tomorrow. I’ll definitely be trying my best to keep it.
"It’ll be unfortunate, but realistically there’s not much you can do about it. It’s been an amazing week for the team, winning the team time trial on Friday, then the stage at Montecassino, and wearing the Maglia Rosa. We couldn’t ask much more for ourselves.”
Speaking of the Stage 7 sprint finish, he said: “It was pretty technical and there was a lot of fighting. Coming into the final, I was one or two spots too far back with that type of finish. After yesterday’s efforts, I wasn’t at 100%. It was more about switching on today and keeping the Maglia Rosa. A top 3 would have been great, and to get the win would have been amazing, but I didn’t quite have the legs.”
As for who will succeed him in the race lead, he singled out Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, who stole timeon his rivals for the overall when he fnished third behind Matthews at Montecassino on Thursday
Matthews said: “I think he’s going well enough to take the Maglia Rosa tomorrow. It’s going to be a long Giro for the GC riders: there’s a lot of hard stages coming up. If he can wait a few days, it might be better.
"He has a really strong team who can put him in the right position before the climbs, and he has team-mates who can help him there, too. He’s a great guy and it would be good to see him on the podium, whether or not he wins the Maglia Rosa, at the end of these three weeks."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.