Bryan Coquard, by the letter of Jean-René Bernaudeau's law, should not go to the Tour de France this July. After informing the Direct Energie team manager of his desire to leave at the end of the season, the sprinter's ordinarily secure spot on the Tour roster was thrown into doubt, and he was given an ultimatum: Win at the Critérium du Dauphiné or you're staying at home.
"If he gives us guarantees, he will go," said Bernaudeau ahead of Tuesday's stage 2. "Guarantees, that's winning a stage at the Dauphiné. If he beats [Arnaud] Démare, that would be good news."
Coquard finished 10th on that day and, after the break foiled the sprint teams the following afternoon, Coquard had his final chance of the Dauphiné in Mâcon on Thursday. He finished third, with Démare in second.
"Guarantees don't mean anything," the Frenchman told a group of reporters after coming to a halt outside the Direct Energie team bus.
"I read in the newspapers that a guarantee was me winning at the Dauphiné. If you absolutely have to win a stage to be at the start of the Tour, there won't be many there," he added with a grin.
Coquard, confident and firm so far in his public handling of a thorny situation, has clearly not lost his sense of humour.
"I think I'm going very well. Now Jean-René will decide whatever he decides. I hope I won't be spending July eating Merguez," he said later.
Coquard regularly speaks about his affection for Bernadeau, who has guided him from an 18-year-old in the Vendée U feeder team right through his four-and-a-half years as a professional, which have yielded over 30 victories. Nevertheless, he admitted there had been "a bit of rancour" since he told Bernaudeau he wouldn't be staying. The ultimatum speaks for itself.
The long-standing team manager dropped in on the Dauphiné on Wednesday, and Coquard was asked how the communication between them had been.
"We spoke, we spoke, but we spoke about everything except the difficult stuff," he said, again with a grin.
"No, we get on very well. We discussed a lot of things but not my selection for the Tour. He knows what I think about it – I want to go. Voila, it's up to him to make the decision."
As for his teammates, he admitted there were a couple who haven't seen eye to eye with him or his decision. That said, he gave a reminder that he had handled the difficult situation openly and decently, and a more pointed reminder of his role in the survival of the team at the end of 2015, when he rejected WorldTour offers to give Bernaudeau time to secure a new sponsor.
"The cohesion is pretty good with the teammates. They haven't forgotten that despite everything, they have jobs thanks to me, when Direct Energie came along 18 months ago," he said.
"There are some [who have a problem], but not in my core group, if you like. Nothing has changed. They were in the loop, they knew about it well before announced to the media They understand. Everyone reacts a bit differently, but there you go, I took a decision, and now I'm following through with that decision. My spirit hasn't changed; I give my all on the bike, I want to win…"
Coquard, ordinarily, should be a shoe-in for the Tour – Direct Energie's most likely possibility for a stage win, by some distance. He has risen in stature over the last couple of years and even came close to winning his first ever Tour stage last year – what would have been the team's first since Thomas Voeckler in 2012 – but was agonisingly edged out by Marcel Kittel.
This year he has five wins to his name, including one from the Belgium Tour at the end of May on his return from a break of more than a month.
"I've tried to prove myself on the bike. I had a long break between Amstel and Belgium, and that was to in order to still be fresh towards the end of the Tour. I've had nearly two weeks of racing now [since Amstel]. I did a good Tour of Belgium, and I think I'm in very good form and on track to keep getting better all the way to the end of the Tour – that's for sure."
Coquard didn't want to dwell on what the rest of the year would look like if Bernaudeau were to follow through – "It would be very complicated" – but reaffirmed his desire to go to the Tour and win for the team.
"There is no interest whatsoever, for either of us, in things ending badly. I even hope things can finish on a high. If I could win a stage of the Tour in my last season with Direct Energie, in the final Tour of Thomas [Voeckler], who has done a great deal for me since I turned pro, that would be the icing on the cake."
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