Bryan Coquard has revealed that he chose to sign for new French Pro Continental team Vital Concept ahead of Quick-Step Floors because he did not want to play second fiddle to Fernando Gaviria and miss out on selection for the 2018 Tour de France.
The nascent Vital Concept outfit will, of course, first have to earn a wildcard invitation to the Tour, but assuming the squad is at the start in the Vendée next July, marquee signing Coquard will lead the team and target the sprint finishes.
Coquard was left out of Direct Energie's team for this year's Tour after he informed manager Jean-René Bernaudeau of his intention to leave at the end of the season. The Frenchman said that Lotto Soudal, Cannondale-Drapac and Bahrain-Merida were among the teams chasing his signature, but he whittled the choice down to Quick-Step Floors and the new Vital Concept team managed by Jerome Pineau.
"I was in contact with several interesting and interested teams," Coquard told L'Équipe. "I weighed up the pros and the cons. In the end, there were two teams left who had very different profiles, which made it a complicated choice. The other option was Quick-Step, a solid team with a good calendar and a sprint culture that corresponded to my profile.
"But I would have been the number two sprinter behind Fernando Gaviria. I suffered a lot when I wasn't selected for the Tour this year, and in going to Quick-Step, I would have been almost certain not to do it. Next year, there is a start in La Baule, near my home, and that played a part too. We're not sure of being there, but I have more chances of doing it…"
Gaviria won four stages at the Giro d'Italia this year, and the youngster's presence at Quick-Step helped to persuade Marcel Kittel to leave for Katusha-Alpecin for next season because despite claiming of five stages at this year's Tour, he was not guaranteed the sprinter's berth for the 2018 race. Quick-Step Floors has since confirmed the arrival of Elia Viviani from Team Sky to ride as its second sprinter for 2018.
Coquard has spent the first five years of his career at Pro Continental level with Direct Energie (formerly Europcar), where he occasionally lamented the team's failure to land wildcard invitations to major events. Choosing to move to another Pro Continental outfit ahead of a WorldTour squad leaves him open to similar disappointments.
"It wasn't the non-invitations themselves that annoyed me, it was above all the feeling that things weren't being done to the full to ensure we were invited," Coquard said. "With Vital Concept, we will depend on invitations too, it's true. But I repeat: the clinching element was the Tour de France."
Coquard had been heavily linked with a move to Pineau's new team since the beginning of the summer. He missed out on selection for the Tour after he rejected a contract offer by Direct Energie in May, although Bernaudeau sent him to race both the Critérium du Dauphiné and Route du Sud in June.
"Since the Tour de Wallonie [in late July – ed.] things have been going better, but the month of June was difficult," Coquard admitted.
"It wasn't a problem with the riders, but of race strategy. I sometimes had the impression from the directeurs sportifs in charge that I wasn't part of the team any more. But I still wanted to win for the team. That hurt me, because I feel that I made my contribution over five years."
Coquard will target the World Championships in Bergen in the final weeks of the season. His preferred schedule features the GP Plouay, the Brussels Cycling Classic, GP Fourmies and the Tour of Denmark.
"If I keep that programme, it could be good for the Worlds," he said. "If some races are taken out, clearly it won't be possible."
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