A 20 year old neo-pro with two stage wins in his first race? That’s quite a start for Europcar’s Bryan Coquard. For sure he’s got a long way to go as the opposition in the Etoile de Bessèges was not the best and this is only an early season race. Still, he’s the youngest rider in the race and his margin of victory was so big that when I put a photo on Twitter someone asked if he’d been in a breakaway because he was surely too far ahead of the bunch to have won the sprint.
Only he’s not a new name with Olympic, World, European and National medals across a range of disciplines to go with a long list of victories on the road and track alike.
Just 20 years old and Coquard’s already a cycling aristocrat with more titles than I can list. He’s been junior world champion twice and has had plenty of time to practice his victory salute. But in 2009 he won the omnium at the track world championships in Moscow and crossing the line he sat up and punched the air… wobbled… and crashed, breaking his collarbone. Fortunately he’d crossed the line and so the rainbow jersey was his.
In the 2012 Olympics he took silver in the omnium race and then another silver medal on the road in the world championships in Valkenburg and seemed to be the fastest in the sprint only he started from far back and Alexey Lutsenko won the race. He ended 2012 with a new title, a Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite or a Knight of the National Order of Merit. Perhaps he can joust with British Knight Sir Bradley Wiggins?
So many titles but one common trait: Coquard is a sprinter with a track endurance background, racing events like the omnium, points race, pursuit and scratch on the track whilst on the road he’s won plenty, often by sprint but not always, see his win in the amateur GP Plouay for example won from a breakaway.
If you’ve got impression of a thick-set sprinter, think twice. He’s small and light, 1.69m and 58 kilos (5″6 and 130lbs for imperialists) which gives him an excellent acceleration… and presumably a useful power to weight ratio to cope with the climbs. This sets him apart from others and makes comparisons with the likes of FDJ’s Arnaud Démare harder. Rather than compare, perhaps we should just observe for now?
Wearing the green jersey of Europcar was only a matter of time. Coquard is from St Nazaire in the west of France and after one successful year with a local club US Pontchâtelaine he moved to Vendée-U, the large feeder team for Europcar where he began to win more and more on the road and track to the point where losing a race became remarkable and he was the wheel to follow in all sprint finishes. Even as a kid Coquard was noticed:
Back in 2008 Coquard appeared on the front of Vélo magazine aged just 15, alongside Sébastien Chavanel, then with FDJ (and brother of Sylvain). The idea was a pair a pro up with a promising youngster in “Operation Big Brother.” The irony is that Chavanel is no longer Coquard’s mentor, he is his lead out man as they both ride for Europcar.
Coquard looks more at ease in the cover picture above but dealing with the media hasn’t always been easy. He describes his first world championships in the omnium race:
“I fought through the first day in the lead. But the second day was all a bit overwhelming, especially with the media attention. I lost much of my ability.”
No doubt he’s got the talent and the pedigree to win plenty more but we should note his form is also a function of early-season activity. Whilst others spent the winter building the base, Coquard was racing on the track too. He was second in the Grenoble Four Days – with Morgan Kneisky – so fitness might have come more easily than others.
Indeed The likes of André Greipel and Mark Cavendish don’t need to worry yet. Coquard is just another name to add to the list of challengers with Andrea Guardini, Elia Viviani, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Arnaud Démare or John Degenkolb. But he is younger and has won more titles than all of them combined.
Instead Coquard’s part of a promising new wave of French cavaliers. Whilst Thibaut Pinot, Arnaud Démare and Pierre Rolland stand out, don’t forget Tony Gallopin, Nacer Bouhanni, Kenny Elissonde, Warren Barguil and Romain Bardet.