You all know that some of the VeloVoices team [Do you mean me? – Ed] love nothing better than a good sprint finish, and we have been well provided for at this year’s Tour. However, in amongst the usual suspects we have noticed a diminutive Europcar rider mixing it with the fast men in those final, frantic metres – Frenchman Bryan Coquard.
With two fourth places, a fifth, a day in the green jersey and still holding second place in the points competition, Monsieur Coquard is the best performing French sprinter at the Tour in some time. And all of this in his first participation.
Let’s have a closer look at the newest name in the current crop of successful French sprinters.
The story so far
At just 22 years old, 1.69m tall and 58kg, the Breton from Saint-Nazaire is one of the smallest sprinters in the WorldTour. To put this into context, Tinkoff-Saxo climber Jesus Hernandez is the same size, and Marcel Kittel outweighs him by a whopping 24kg. However, what he lacks in bulk he more than makes up for in pure speed and competitiveness. He’s equally at home fighting on the road or in the velodrome, and has already amassed an impressive palmares in both disciplines.
His track pedigree speaks for itself at both junior, under-23 and senior levels. Specialising in endurance events such as the omnium, points race, pursuit and the scratch race his honours include two titles from the UCI Juniors Track World Championships (2009 and 2010), two European titles, numerous UCI World Cup placings and a raft of French national titles. However, the cherry on the velodrome cake has to be the silver medal for the omnium at the London 2012 Olympics.
The successful transfer of skills from track to road is not uncommon (think Michael Mathews and Mark Cavendish for a start) and ‘Le Coq’ looks well on his way to be just as successful. In 2012 he had a an impressive season with Vendee U and then took the silver medal in the hotly contested under-23 men’s road race at the World Championships in Valkenberg. He only just missed out on the rainbow jersey by a hair’s breadth to Alexey Lutsenko (now Astana). However, his ability to get up and over the Cauberg before the final sprint marked him down as one to watch in the punchier sprints.
Vendee U is a feeder team for Europcar, so it was no surprise to see him wearing the green strip for his first professional season in 2013, where he racked up early wins at both Etoile des Besseges and the Tour of Langkawi. Perhaps more impressive was his victory over Marcel Kittel at the Tour de Picardie and then a fine second place to Mark Cavendish in the uphill drag on the Frederiksberg at the Tour Of Denmark (he did beat Tyler Farrar though).
2014 has continued in the same vein. Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Demare (both FDJ) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) have all been beaten into second place by the pocket-sized sprinter.
Europcar do not have a sprint train, but they work hard to get Coquard into position in the final kilometres. From there he’s brought to the front by his fiercely competitive poisson pilote Kevin Reza. There really is something joyful, though heart-stopping, to watch that pair duking it out with the big sprint teams. It might not look pretty at times, but once he opens his sprint there is nothing scrappy about the way Coquard accelerates. Take a look at the finish of stage four to see what I mean.
Added to this are the superb bike-handling skills that his time on the track have gifted him. Riding around the boards in a velodrome on a bike with no brakes does prove handy in the gladiatorial arena of a bunch sprint, and particularly so when the tarmac is slick with rain.
As far as the Tour de France goes, Le Coq has his eyes on the green jersey. Even though he’s currently trailing by over 100 points, he’s said: “I’ll fight to the end for the green jersey, even if Peter Sagan will be hard to beat”.
Personally, I would just love to see him survive all the way to Paris. For someone of his age and experience that’s a tall order, but I’m betting his fighter’s instinct will see him compete in the final sprint along the Champs-Élysées.
Of course there is still the question of his track career, and I wonder if he will be tempted back for another crack at an Olympic gold in 2016. He also raced the Six Days of Grenoble in 2012 with Morgan Kneisky, where the pair placed second. If you haven’t watched a Six Day, do so for the sheer excitement. Riders such as Elia Viviani and Michael Morkov excel here, and racing the track provides great training for early season road races.
On the road, his fourth place on the brutal sprint into Harrogate on stage one showed he has both the talent and power to make an impact in the WorldTour. He’s lightning quick on his day, and provided his team can get him into a winning position I see him racking up the wins in years to come. His small stature aids him when the road starts to climb, and he’s already shown he can win on those uphill sprints. That is only going to improve as he gets older and stronger.
Comparisons with other sprinters are not easy. He’s no Kittel or Cavendish yet, but if pushed I’d say he going to be more successful than both Bouhanni and Demare in a couple of years.
Keep your eye out for Bryan Coquard, he’s going places.