BRUSSELS — Nacer Bouhanni’s haters don’t care that he is a former French cycling champion, or even that he was born and raised in France.
The Arkea-Samsic team rider has been subjected to a torrent of racist insults over the past week, many of them urging him to leave France and go to Africa.
Bouhanni has decided it’s time to speak out.
“Know that I was born in France and that I will file a complaint because I’ve been enduring this and kept silent for too long, but this time I will not let go,” he wrote this week.
Bouhanni, a hot-tempered rider with an history of race incidents, was disqualified following an illegal move at the one-day Cholet-Pays de la Loire on March 28. Cycling governing body UCI cited him for dangerous conduct after he pushed Jake Stewart into the barriers during the final sprint and referred the incident to its disciplinary commission.
Bouhanni admitted his mistake but said the move was not intentional. Since then, racist insults have been flying.
Bouhanni, a rider with North African heritage who won the French national championships in 2012, published screenshots of some of the messages he has received. His team has released a statement, saying it “deplores and strongly denounces all these acts of racism.”
In an interview with L’Equipe newspaper published Tuesday, Bouhanni said he has been abused throughout his career. He said he did not speak out earlier because the topic remains a “taboo,” and for fear he would appear like someone trying to victimize himself.
But the latest series of insults – some of them calling him to a “terrorist” – were too much too take.
“I was born in France. I love my country. I was French champion at the age of 21. When I was on the podium with La Marseillaise, it was one of the most beautiful moments in my career,” said the 30-year-old rider. “It’s sad to read all this, people wanting me to end up in jail.”
Asked whether he also suffered from racist attitudes in the predominantly white peloton, Bouhanni said it had never happened “directly” and he had never had any such issues within the various teams he rode for.
Bouhanni, however, filed a lawsuit against Stef Clement after the former pro rider-turned-pundit claimed during the 2019 Tour de France that the French cyclist made his team pork free and did not want to work with women on race days because of his religious beliefs.
“I received a lot of racist messages following these insinuations,” Bouhanni said. “I have filed a complaint, but I am still waiting for the justice (system) to get back to me.”