Bryan Coquard had previously finished second and third in Tour de France stages but in Limoges on Tuesday afternoon, he came within a whisker of claiming a maiden victory in La Grande Boucle. The Direct Energie sprinter found himself behind the likes of Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and eventual stage winner Marcel Kittel in the finale but demonstrated his track smarts to burst through, only to fall short at the final millimetre.
After the stage and wait for confirmation of the result following the photo finish, the Frenchman explained that he thinks "I belong with the greats now" despite having never made an individual visit to the Tour de France podium.
"I really believed in my chances. Jimmy (Engoulvent) yesterday reproached me not to have thrown my bike forward enough. I could see I was making it back but it was not enough. I'm very disappointed but I must not give up," he commented post-stage. "There are still lots of chances left. I'm glad that we took things into our own hands. I think I belong with the greats now. There is no mistake in the sprints, the stronger wins."
Coquard, who had six top-ten results on his Tour debut in 2014, and four in 2015, was seventh in the 2016 Tour opener to Utah Beach but was much closer to victory in stage 3 into Angers without truly threatening for wins. Limoges marked his best chance yet for a stage win with the slight uphill finish expected to suit his capabilities over the larger Kittel.
"I was never as close to victory but I haven't won yet. I'm young but I'm a winner," he added. "I have temperament and I want to win this year on the Tour."
Coquard has won 13 races in 2016, his most successful season yet, but is yet to take a victory at WorldTour level. The 24-year-old has built his season around winning a stage at the Tour de France in 2016 and could announce himself as France's top sprinter ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), who are both searching for a Tour win but were non-starters for the 103rd edition.
Coquard's next opportunity to show he belongs with the 'greats' should come on the 187km stage 6 from Arpajon-sur-Cère to Montauban with the finish suited for the sprinters.
- Tour de France stage 4 finish line quotes
- Tour de France: Sagan defeated but happy in Limoges
- Tour de France: Stage 4 video highlights
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