Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) achieved his stated objective at this year’s Tour de France: a top 15 finish on general classification. His final placing of 14th saw him achieve that goal, but even though the Frenchman had been recruited to the team as a stage race leader in 2010, he was still surprised to find himself fighting for a top placing in the Tour as soon as this year.
“I didn’t expect to be a team leader at the Tour de France at only 24 years of age," Coppel told Velochrono.
“We had it in our minds to target week-long races first. Then, we thought that it would be good to ride a Grand Tour in the second year, just for learning, before trying to go for a top 15 or top 10 placing in the third year,” he said.
Coppel is thus one year ahead of the team’s initial plan, and hopes to take his performances further in the coming seasons. “Stage races are really my thing, they are what I love and what attracts me. I don't perform too badly in the time trial as well as in the mountains.”
The French rider may have been somewhat overlooked at the Tour because of the displays of his countrymen Thomas Voeckler, fourth in Paris, and best young rider Pierre Rolland, but he learned much from his experience.
After crashing hard in stage seven to Chateauroux, Coppel experienced “one of the worst days ever spent on a bike” on stage nine to Saint-Flour. But his team manager Stéphane Heulot, a former rider with Banesto in the nineties, helped him to continue. “Stéphane told me that Indurain also had difficult moments and that he was able to improve again as the days went by. I had to stay put and hide myself a bit in the bunch,” Coppel recalled, and it worked out.
“The whole team trusted me. Even during my weak moments, they continued to support me. That helped me a lot.”
It was his second Tour de France, but as he did not finish his first in 2009, Coppel considered this one as his real debut. “This is really my first Grand Tour, even more so as a leader. It’s the first one that I finished. Perhaps some observers or journalists forgot that… and that I am only 24 years old. To finish 14th in these circumstances is great, isn’t it? Pierre Rolland, for example, was riding already his third Tour, and now breaks through. It means I still have some time in front of me…”