Six wins and a string of other high finishes made Europcar's Bryan Coquard one of the best new pros of last season. Having agreed an extension to his contract with Jean-René Bernaudeau's team, Coquard is relishing the prospect of competing in WorldTour events throughout this season following Europcar's elevation to the top level and can't wait to get back to racing at this weekend's GP La Marseillaise.
A pocket rocket standing 1.69m and weighing in at just 58kg, the 21-year-old Frenchman has refused the temptation of completing his pre-season training in warm weather climes in order to stay near friends and family in St-Nazaire in western France. The poor weather has been hard to deal, he tells Ouest France, but it has also made him even more eager to race and see how he fares in the biggest events on the calendar.
"It is going to be a pivotal year. We have just stepped up to the WorldTour, which means more big races, without wanting to denigrate the Coupe de France events or the other races that I did last year. In my mind, there are no small or big races, the important thing is simply to be able to raise your arms and celebrate victory," he said. "However, I don't expect to win as often when I'm mixing it regularly with the best. I would prefer to win one race, but a really big one. A stage win at Paris-Nice suit would suit me very well."
Although labelled a sprinter, Coquard sees himself as a punchy rider who can cope well on the climbs. With this in mind, he believes his future lies as much in the Classics as it does in bunch finishes. "That's the target I've been pushing myself fully towards in training," he said.
The Europcar sprinter adds that even though he is often ordered to hide himself in the peloton and stay as fresh as possible for the final sprint, he often feels like he's got the ability to cope on the climbs and even stay with the best riders on the hills. "I don't find this frustrating because I have the team at my service for almost 90% of the time, but in the future I can imagine winning races which finish on climbs that are three or four kilometres long," he said.
The young Frenchman acknowledges that he and his lead-out train at Europcar are likely to struggle against the peloton's big name sprinters because of their lack of experience. But he hopes the arrival of Jimmy Engoulvent from FDJ will add some significant firepower.
"We are all quite new to this. Before me, Europcar didn't have a sprinter at this level, so there is a lack of resources. We've got smallest budget in the WorldTour. But look at Giant-Shimano's train. Without putting them down, if you take each rider on their own, they are not champions. But they have worked hard to become one of the best trains in the world. Ideally, Jimmy will make an effort to up to 500 metres and put me on the wheel I want. That's more how we'll play things this year," said Coquard, who bullishly notes that his aim is to become the best sprinter in the sport.
He should be able to judge how far he has to go to achieve that objective when he lines up at the Tour de France this summer. "My whole season has been built around me being at my peak in July. I would really like to go there with all guns blazing."