Paris (AFP) – Former French road race champion Nacer Bouhanni says he has received “hundreds” of racist messages on social media since his shoulder charge on British rider Jake Stewart.

“It’s too much now, it’s turned into harassment,” the 30-year-old sprinter told Tuesday’s L’Equipe.

The interview with the French sports daily followed his announcement on Instagram on Monday that he intended to take legal action over the spate of racist abuse sparked by the March 28 incident at the Cholet-Pays de Loire race where Stewart broke his hand when forced into railings.

“I’m not the only one to see what’s going on on social media.

“Why doesn’t anyone do anything when these sort of lowlife people are persistently telling me I’m a ‘pig’ or a ‘terrorist’, or ‘go back to your dirty north African country’,” he told the paper.

Bouhanni, who said he was suffering from insomnia as a result of the abuse, continued: “It’s like a scar that is closed, but is reopening little by little as the days pass, and that’s what hurts.

“I was born in France, I love my country, I was French champion when I was 21, being on the podium with the Marseillaise playing was one of the best moments of my career.

“I’m proud of my name, I’m proud of my roots, I’m French with north African origins, that’s how it is.”

He said he had never been the target of racism in the peloton nor in any of his teams, “but outside of competition, for sure I’ve had it”.

Bouhanni’s team Arkea-Samsic backed their rider’s stand against racism on Monday.

“Nacer Bouhanni has suffered violent attacks of a racist nature over the past week, mainly on social media,” his team said.

“He has decided to take legal action and we offer him our full support.”

Bouhanni has 69 victories, including three Giro d’Italia stages and three in the Vuelta a Espana, but his career has been punctuated by altercations.

On the 2017 Tour de France, he was fined for hitting New Zealander Jack Bauer and later that season he had to be pulled off compatriot Rudy Barbieri who had just won Paris-Bourges. 

Cycling’s governing body the UCI “strongly condemned the dangerous conduct” of Bouhanni in the sprint finish last month. Bouhanni denied he had acted dangerously.