Bryan Coquard must endure the disappointment of missing the Tour de France for a second year after Vital Concept failed to earn a wild card invitation to this year’s race, but the Frenchman has insisted that he has no regrets about joining the nascent Pro Continental team.
Coquard was left out of Direct Energie’s selection for last year’s Tour de France after declining to extend his contract with Jean-René Bernaudeau’s squad, and he later became the marquee signing for the new Vital Concept squad, which is managed by the former rider Jerome Pineau.
On Monday, ASO announced that the four wild card invitations to this year’s Tour de France have been awarded to Direct Energie, Cofidis, Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Fortueno-Samsic, who all appeared in the 2017 race.
Coquard’s disappointment is compounded by the fact that the 2018 Tour will pass close to his native Saint-Nazaire in its opening days and the news that Vital Concept have also been overlooked for selection for Paris-Nice.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s a possibility that we hadn’t discounted but it’s still hard,” Coquard told Ouest France. “We were hoping to ride Paris-Nice at least, prove ourselves, and wait for the start of the season for the invitations to the Tour de France. The timing is difficult.
“It’s all the more difficult because I’m convinced this is a project that is hitting the ground with a lot of good and ambitious riders. It’s hard to digest. A season without the Tour doesn’t have the same flavour. I’m disappointed but not defeated.”
Still only 25 years of age, Coquard has raced the Tour de France three times in his career, most recently in 2016 when he was pipped to stage victory by Marcel Kittel in the bunch sprint at Limoges in the opening week.
The Frenchman, who has won 33 races a professional, is the leader of a team that also includes former FDJ riders Kevin Reza and Johan Le Bon, as well as Belgians Bert De Backer and Kris Boeckmans. Coquard was linked with a move to Quick-Step Floors last summer, but ultimately opted to sign on with Pineau at Vital Concept.
“I could have gone elsewhere but it’s a project I believe in,” Coquard said. “I made a choice and I’m still filled with the ambition of winning as many races as possible.”
Pineau looks to the future
Coquard’s dismay was echoed by his team manager Pineau, who received news of ASO’s decision during a phone call from Tour director Christian Prudhomme on Monday morning. He said that he accepted ASO had made a decision on sporting grounds, but expressed disappointment that Vital Concept had missed out on selection before they had turned a pedal in anger – as recently as 2016, Tour wildcards were not assigned until the season was underway.
“I had heard rumours but I was expecting the decision to come later, so Vital Concept would be able to express itself out on the road,” Pineau told Ouest France. “I’m disappointed that Bryan wasn’t able to show everybody that he was on the way back. They’ve invited us to the Dauphiné, which is good and I’m grateful for that, but I would have preferred Paris-Nice to show our qualities.
“We accept and take note of the decision. Now it’s up to us to make sure we don’t fall victim to the same decision next year.”
Pineau added that his Vital Concept team’s ambition would not be curtailed as a result of missing out on Tour selection in its maiden season of existence. Vital Concept has signed on as title sponsor for an initial period of three years.
“This doesn’t change our project, it’s a project for the future and we’re working towards the long-term,” Pineau said. “It’s up to us to prove we belong among the big teams.”
Coquard’s first race in Vital Concept colours will come in the United Arab Emirates at the Sharjah Tour (January 24-28), but much of the spring programme is dependent on whether the team can secure wild card invitations to the Classics.