ROUSSON, France (VN) – When, in 2016, he was denied a Tour de France stage win by Marcel Kittel by a mere tire’s width, it looked like Frenchman Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) was on the verge of entering the sprinting elite, alongside the likes of Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan. Yet, although the wins did come, the 29-year-old had still to claim a win at the WorldTour level, and leading into Thursday’s second stage of the Étoile de Bessèges 551 days had passed since he last raised his arms on the opening stage of the Route d’Occitanie in August 2020.
Finally, it arrived, though not in the fashion that would normally have been expected of Coquard, as the wall that rose above the village of Rousson on the edge of the rugged Cévennes massif appeared too steep for him. Yet, after an enthralling elbow-to-elbow sprint with stage one winner and race leader Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo, Coquard threw his arms to the sky – or, to be more precise, one arm, as the effort that he’d made to defeat the Dane had taken him to his limit. Once across the line, he collapsed to the road, chest heaving, gasping for air.
It was a timely success not only because it had been so long since the last one, but also because it came in just his third day of racing with Cofidis, the team he joined over the winter after four seasons as the leader and figurehead of another French outfit, B&B Hotels. After 18 months, one of the biggest smiles in cycling was revealed once again.
“This is the beginning of a great adventure, a new page that is starting very well,” Coquard said at the finish. “I’m a humble person, I’ve worked a lot, even when things weren’t working. This is a good reward today. I’m very proud, wearing this new jersey. It will set me up nicely for the road ahead, and I hope it will be the same for the team.”
Coquard explained that his new coach at Cofidis has changed his training, getting him to work more on sprinting and specifically on lactic efforts. “It’s a new way of training and I’m very happy with it,” he said. “It was a very difficult finish and I thought I was never going to pass Pedersen, that he was never going to relent, it was a violent effort.”
He said the victory would serve partly as a riposte to those who have written him off during his long victory drought. “There have been a few things said in the papers lately that I didn’t like at all, but I responded on the bike today. I think that the people concerned will understand. I’m not going to stir things up. I responded on the bike, and that’s all I have to say about it,” said the Frenchman.
Trek-Segafredo’s Pedersen had mixed feelings at the finish, happy that his excellent start to the season was confirmed, but disappointed to miss out on the win after all of the work his teammates had done in helping to defend his lead. “I would have liked to have paid them back with a win but credit to Coquard, he was just faster in the end and got 10 or 15 centimeters ahead. It was a pretty nice final and nice to fight with him for the win,” said the 2019 world road champion.
“We missed one guy a little bit in the end, if we’d had one more guy who could have pulled before Alex Kirsch then it would have been perfect. I could have opened my sprint with perhaps 200 meters to go instead of almost 300. It was 50 meters too long today and Bryan is really, really fast, so it’s not a shame to lose to a guy like him.”
As he did after winning Bessèges’s opening stage on Wednesday, the Dane played down any GC ambitions for the race. “It’s gonna be difficult with the mountaintop finish on stage four. Finals like this suit me quite well but if it’s any longer then it’s too much,” he explained.
“I’d still say I’m not going for GC but the shape is good. Tomorrow [Friday] is harder for the whole stage, so we’ll see how people are going. It’s not going to be our job to keep it together.”