Coquard's second stage win, and a third for Europcar
Bryan Coquard's second sprint win in the Etoile de Bessèges delivered Team Europcar their third win in as many days. The 20-year-old sprinter powered past Frédérique Robert (Lotto-Belisol) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) to take the 154km stage from Sabran to Pont Saint Esprit.
Coquard, winner of the Olympic omnium silver medal at London 2012, had opened up his Europcar account on Thursday with his first professional win on the road in stage two of the five-day race. 24 hours after Jérôme Cousin rode into the race lead following a second successive win for Europcar, Coquard took his tally to two – and his team's to three – after another superb day in the saddle for Jean-René Bernaudeau's squad.
Cousin retains his three-second lead over Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) going into the final day of the race, which includes both a time trial and a short road stage.
The day started in a testing fashion for Europcar, with a group of nine riders managing to break clear after eight kilometres. The nine-man break included danger men Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille) and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) – respectively 24 seconds and 27 seconds down on Cousin in the general classification.
Hard work on the front of the peloton by Team Europcar saw the riders reeled in and the threat annulled. "We were trapped early on in the stage," said sporting director Dominique Arnould. "The team really pulled together for 80km in order to chase down the escapees."
With around 70km left to ride, Antomarchi's team-mate Thomas Rostollan instigated another break and was joined by Axel Domont (Ag2R-La Mondiale). The duo held a large lead of 5:50 with 41km remaining but were eventually swept up three kilometres from the finish to ensure a thrilling bunch sprint.
"They were not a danger to the GC," explained Arnould. "We did a good job in protecting the lead of Jérôme Cousin and also monitoring the break – after all, we had our eyes on the stage win too."
Led out once again brilliantly by Sébastien Chavanel, Coquard "showed that he is the fastest rider in the peloton in this race". A second win in three days for Coquard left the 20-year-old both ecstatic and also grateful for the hard work done by his team-mates.
"I was protected throughout the day and I felt ready to deliver in the finale," said Coquard. "Of course, we were all riding to help Jérôme keep his leader's jersey, but Séb and I were relatively spared so that we could be fresh for the sprint. I really want to thank all my team-mates because even those who are used to it don't like it too much when it gets dicey in the finale – but they were all there. I must give a big thanks to Séb too, who delivered me to the 300m mark excellently. The rest is history."
Beaten to third place in the sprint, veteran rider Dumoulin was full of praise for his young counterpart after stage four. "Bravo Bryan. It's incredibly to see such a talent up close in action. He really gave the old generation a slap in the face," Dumoulin wrote on Twitter.
"It really makes me happy to hear all these encouragements," said Coquard. "Before taking to the start in the Etoile des Bessèges, I didn't really know where I was in relation to my preparation. But now I know that I've delivered, it's a huge weight off my shoulders. I'll now take whatever there's to be taken."
The peloton has been warned – he may be new to the game, but Coquard means business.