Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 02:55 | By Agence France-Presse

Bouhanni at the double as Giro's first climbs loom

French sprint ace Nacer Bouhanni claimed his second victory of the Giro d'Italia on Friday as Australian Michael Matthews held on to the race leader's pink jersey.

Bouhanni at the double as Giro's first climbs loom

France's Nacer Bouhanni celebrates on the podium after winning the 7th stage of the 97th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, cycling race from Frosinone to Foligno (211km) on May 16, 2014 in Foligno - by Luk Benies

Bouhanni handed the French their first win in Italy's biggest race in three years after overcoming a late puncture during Tuesday's rain-hit fourth stage to triumph at the finish line.

On Friday's transitional 211km stage, the 24-year-old of the FDJ.fr team doubled his tally when he left Italian Giacomo Nizzolo and Slovenian Luka Mezgec with the minor placings. Matthews finished fourth.

After Mezgec had launched the final dash for the finish line, Bouhanni used a combination of sheer speed and tactical nous to squeeze past the Slovenian and on towards victory, with Nizzolo finishing runner-up half a wheel behind.

"There was a gap, and I somehow found my way through it," said Bouhanni, who reclaimed the red jersey for the race's points competition.

"I'll try to keep it (jersey) for as long as possible. I did the intermediate sprint but didn't give it full gas as I wanted to keep some in the tank for the finish.

"But if I have to keep doing the intermediate sprints, I will."

Despite benefiting from the early exit of German ace Marcel Kittel, who won two stages in three days before abandoning due to illness, 2012 French champion Bouhanni's exploits have prompted praise from retired Italian legend Mario Cippollini.

"He's the archetypal sprinter, he's afraid of nothing," said Cipollini, who still holds the record of 42 Giro stage wins.

Despite the absence of both British sprint king Mark Cavendish as well as Kittel, Bouhanni was defiant.

"I'm not here to compare myself to them. But when I race against them it's to try and beat them," he added.

"They are top sprinters. I'm only 23 years old and I'm looking to get better every year."

Matthews, a sprint specialist who rides for Orica, leads compatriot Cadel Evans (BMC), a favorite for overall victory, by 21sec overall ahead of Saturday's rolling eighth stage from Foligno to Montecopiolo, which ends after a 6.4km climb.

Before many of the race's major climbing difficulties, Evans is in a favourable position having seen pink jersey rival Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) crash out of the race with three broken ribs on Thursday.

After that crash drama, Evans said he was relieved with a "much less stressful day".

"It was a much better day for everyone on dry roads. Most people managed to stay safe, so we are quite happy to have a day like this," said the Australian.

Evans is a former Tour de France and world champion and his closest rival, Colombian Rigoberto Uran, is third overall at 1min 18sec behind Matthews. 

Ahead of Saturday's climbing stage, he added: "It is the first really important day of the Giro, so it is good to just arrive in the group without being too stressed."

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