Stage 16: Wanted. Men brave enough to serve as Cofidis Domestiques

The explorer Ernest Shackleton famously placed an ad in the Times of London to recruit the crew of his doomed South Pole expedition. It simply read: “MEN WANTED”.

Shackleton was clear about the dangers that lay ahead: the risk to life and limb, and the prospect of not returning. But he offered glory to the survivors, which in those days was often enough. Shackleton, so the story goes, was inundated with applications.

Any day now a similar ad will appear, taped to the door of the Cofidis team bus by the Director Sportif looking for help. But would anyone apply?

“Cofidis Domestique” must be the most inauspicious position in the peloton. Each day eight men are tasked with getting Nacar Bouhanni to the finish line, and preferably in front of everyone else. It’s thought failure to satisfy these demands causes all sorts of tantrums, and bollockings.

However bad their lot is, riders in the peloton can at least say they don’t ride for Cofidis, as they watch the bruiser butt and slug his way through the peloton, with eight excuses ready for when things go wrong.

And they have been going wrong.

So when Bouhanni found himself in the wrong group when the peloton split, and on what was supposed to be a sprint stage, he set about reversing the situation.

We can only imagine the teeth grinding among his teammates, grinding specifically through the wiring of their two-way radios, hoping to disable them and justify inactivity. But Cyril Lemoine rode forth and into the wind, ready to pedal like hell. Bouhanni hung on.

Cyril Lemoine rides his team leader Nacer Bouhanni back into contention

Fear is not exactly a healthy motivator, but you wonder how much it motivated Lemoine to deliver his man. He and Bouhanni pulled back the two lost minutes of ground before finally easing off – Lemoine leaving Bouhanni to push towards the front. Had his team leader muttered any word of thanks, Lemoine would have been without the breath to acknowledge it.

Bouhanni would miss out on contesting the stage, finishing some 1:43 back. Only the renegade Christophe Laporte, in an obvious act of betrayal, finished ahead of him. The others, wiser perhaps, rolled in later. No thanks or appreciation guaranteed.

Leave your comments on this post below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog or on Facebook. Alternatively use the sign up box above to ensure you never miss a post.

Raging Rayane and a good natured kid trying to help

Danilith Nokere Koerse

Rayane Bouhani (in red) lying in the middle of the  road as the race takes off around him

There were crashes in the closing stages of the Nokere Koerse, but the worst came with about 10km left to race.

It certainly looked bad. A lapse in concentration from a Bora rider sent him to the ground, followed by a dozen others who were flung in all directions. Most of whom landed badly, and upside down.

That included the raging Rayane Bouhani of Cofidis, lying in the road, furious, flapping his hands in pain, and kicking out at riders who had the nerve to ride around him.

The boy in the blue with his mum as Rouhani lets off some steam

It’s never good for kids to see grown-ups at their most vulnerable. In this case Bouhani was hurt and watching the race speed off up the road without him. Seeing his helmet on the floor Bouhani he instinctively kicked it as hard as he could, sending it flying in the general direction of Milan-Sanremo, (until it hit someone’s front door), and straight past a young boy watching the race with his mum.

The kid did what any good-natured ten-year-old  boy would do when adults are close to tears – he tried to help. So he figured the best way to do that was to go get  Bouhani’s helmet, and then wait by the side of the road to give it back to him, if it would help. Bouhani though, cursing and hobbling, was already on his way to the team car.

Rayane Rouhani hobbles into the Cofidis team car and out of the race

The boy looked on as riders were patched up or pushed back on their way. He clutched his mum with one hand, and Bouhani’s helmet with the other, until a grateful Cofidis DS came to collect it before dashing back to the car.

That left the kid, and his mum, to find somewhere a little less expletive-ridden to watch the end of the race, and Bouhani’s brother Nacer go on to win the stage.

Leave your thoughts about this post in the comments below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog.