Contract announcements usually come with quotes, social media posts, and maybe even a video, but seldom with a real-life race victory. Yet Vital Concept-B&B Hotels struck gold on Friday as confirmation that Bryan Coquard had signed a new two-year deal was followed that afternoon by a stage win for the Frenchman at the Arctic Race of Norway.
"It's perfect," Coquard told Cyclingnews in Svolvær, even if he did reveal the deal had already been done more than a month ago.
Still, it was a good note on which to begin a second chapter with the French team, especially since he had considered moving to pastures new.
Coquard joined Jerome Pineau's all-new team in 2018 after falling out of favour at Direct Énergie, yet things haven't exactly gone to plan. Coquard buckled under the pressure of his leadership status and admitted he lost confidence in himself, picking up just three wins in his first year. This year has seen a turnaround, with Friday's victory in Norway his eighth of the season.
However, despite the success, he had to find other plans for July as Vital Concept were once again denied a wildcard invitation for the Tour de France, meaning Coquard hasn't raced La Grande Boucle since narrowly missing out on a stage win in 2016.
"I had to really reflect on it, because it's two years at this team in which I don't do the Tour, but there you go, I hope I've made the right choice," he said. "In any case, I truly believe I have."
Interest from other teams
Coquard acknowledged there was interest from other teams, and he could have relatively easily guaranteed himself a spot in the 2019 Tour by moving on. However, having finally found his stride at the team, he felt it important to continue.
"After the national championships [in June], I thought about it a lot and I came to a simple realisation. I took a big risk two years ago joining this new project, and to jump ship so early wouldn't make sense. If were to leave, I'd have the feeling of having wasted two years."
When it comes to the Tour de France, Coquard is hopeful a wildcard can be achieved next year, even if he shared that same hope at the start of the last two years.
The other three French Pro Continental teams – Cofidis, Total Direct Énergie, and Arkéa-Samsic – all have pretensions to WorldTour status next year, meaning the number of wildcards could be reduced. In that case, Vital Concept's chief rivals for selection would be Wanty-Groupe Gobert, who have now lost a key draw for the Tour organisers in Frenchman Guillaume Martin.
"I hope we'll be at the start. It's up to us to be strong for the rest of this year, win as often as possible, and then carry that into next season," Coquard said.
"We've come a long way in these two years and I think we're getting there now. I struggled a bit in the first year with being too involved in the project rather than on myself as an athlete but I've found a good balance now, and I'm confident the team as a whole will be able to reach the highest level."
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