Coquard thrilled to win his season-opener at Etoile de Besseges

French sprinter determined to show he deserves new status as Direct Énergie leader

Bryan Coquard said he was delighted at starting his 2016 campaign with a stage win on the opening day of the Étoile de Bessèges in the south of France. Newly installed as the leader of the Direct Énergie team, the 23-year-old sprinter admitted: “I had a lot to prove, to show my teammates that my new status is well deserved and that they are right to believe in me.”

Speaking to La Provence after an impressive bunch sprint victory in Beaucaire, Coquard added: “I also wanted to show [team manager] Jean-René [Bernaudeau] that he hadn’t made the wrong decision by putting his faith in me.”

With new signings Sylvain Chavanel and Adrien Petit as well as team stalwarts such as Thomas Voeckler working hard for him, Coquard finished several lengths clear of the pack. Winner of five stages in the three previous editions of Bessèges, Coquard said that the stage couldn’t have gone any better for him and his team.

“It all went just as we’d imagined this morning in the bus before the start. It’s rare for things to go as you predict,” he said. “When I started to sprint with 200 metres remaining I thought I could hear Adri [Petit] already celebrating victory.”

Courted by other teams when Bernaudeau was struggling to find a sponsor to replace Europcar during the latter part of last season, Coquard opted to stick with the team when Direct Énergie emerged as the new sponsor and his boss promised him a leadership role.

Not surprisingly, Bernaudeau too was happy his new leader’s winning start. “This victory gives me a huge amount of pleasure,” he said. “Everyone did a super job. They were exemplary.”

Coquard’s principal early-season target is next month’s Paris-Nice, and he admits he and his team still have one or two things to iron out with their lead-out before facing a much bigger challenge in “the race to the sun.”

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