Coquard soars to debut win for Europcar
Bryan Coquard won his first stage in the famous green colours of Team Europcar with an emphatic bunch sprint victory in stage two of Etoile de Bessèges on Thursday. The former track cyclist, who joined Jean-René Bernaudeau's squad in the winter, comfortably took his debut professional win on the road in the 157km stage from Nîmes to Les Fumades.
Sixth on Wednesday, Coquard had finished the opening stage of the five-day race with a bitter taste in his mouth. Twenty-four hours later, however, and the 20-year-old raised his arms for what should prove to be the first of many victories for Team Europcar.
Coquard, who won the Olympic omnium silver medal at London 2012, eased past stage one winner Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) in the bunch sprint – although the Belgian retained the overall race lead.
Under a bright sun and temperatures in the high teens, the race got off to a quick start in Nîmes thanks to an early break from Thomas Vaubourzeix (La Pomme Marseille) and Alphonse Vermote (An Post – Chainreaction). They were soon joined by Jimmy Engoulvent (Sojasun) and the leading trio built up a maximum lead of just over six minutes at the 70km mark. The break crossed the two king of the mountains climbs still well ahead, and with 65km remaining they held an advantage of almost four minutes over the pack.
But alongside the teams of the other top sprinters, Team Europcar rallied on the front of the peloton and the escapees were swept up with 13km remaining before Bernaudeau's squad closed out the stage in brilliant fashion.
"We were pulling hard on the front of the peloton going into the final kilometre," said directeur sportif Dominique Arnould. "Bryan was in the wheel of Seb (Chavanel), who lead him out brilliantly. Bryan then had to seal the deal in the final 200m."
After being launched like a slingshot by Chavanel, Coquard blew the field apart to take his first victory for his new team several bike lengths ahead of Van Staeyen and third-place Baptiste Planckaert (Crelan-Euphony). Stefan Van Dijk (Accent Jobs) and Jonas Van Genechten (Lotto-Belisol) completed the top five.
"To do this in only his second race as a professional is incredible," said Arnould. "It's going to take a huge amount of weight off his shoulders too. The whole world was expecting great things from Bryan. The team put its confidence in him, and he proved just what he's capable of. The goal has been accomplished," Arnould added.
Team Europcar have been treated like rock stars by the French public since the start of the five-day race on Wednesday. With Coquard's win, "the contract has been fulfilled," said Arnould.
Stage three of the early-season Etoile de Bessèges, which is held annually in the department of Gard in Southern France, sees the riders travel 152km, beginning and finishing in Bessèges.