A wonderful birthday present for Bryan Coquard on April 25th: the French rider was officially declared the leader of the UCI Europe Tour the day he turned 21.
That makes him one of the youngest to lead the competition since it was created in 2005. Relaxed and cheerful, the Olympic vice-champion in the Omnium and UCI World vice-Champion in the Under-23 road raceÂ is enjoying his new status: â€śI think it is great to race in the white leaderâ€™s jersey for at least a month. This jersey is quite familiar in our team, Team Europcar, because Thomas Voeckler wore it two years ago. I hope I will win a few races in this outfit.â€ť
In his first season as a professional, Coquard has already celebrated four victories in stage races: two in the Etoile de BessĂ¨ges and two in the Tour de Langkawi. And more.... seven times he has finished in the top five in UCI events, nearly always after a bunch sprint, his speciality.
He has 197 points in the UCI Europe Tour and leads Spainâ€™s Francesco Lada (Caja Rural), 188 points, and the Slovenian Matej Mugerli (Adria Mobil), 182 points.
â€śI had a few ambitions for the early season but I didnâ€™t know where I stood and I didnâ€™t think I would achieve such results so quickly,â€ť he said. â€śMy participation in the Tour de Langkawi really helped. During the 10 stages, I was up against some very good sprinters, which helped me progress.â€ť
This means that Coquard also clocks up 63 points in the UCI Asia Tour individual rankings, led by Hong Kongâ€™s Ki Ho Choi (223 points).
He will now concentrate on UCI Europe Tour events, trying to hold on to his lead. Between now and summer he will race in the Tour de Picardie, the Tour de Belgique and the Route du Sud. In 2013, Coquard will limit his forays into the UCI WorldTour. His only participation to date is the Gand-Wevelgem at the end of March where he finished 16th, sixth of the peloton. â€śI would like to progress on the cobbled classics,â€ť he explains. â€śParis-Roubaix is not my sort of race, but I would like to try others. I like climbs and small technical roads. This year, Paris-Camembert is one of the races that I really enjoyed" (he finished 5th).
No Tour de France for his first year: â€śWe thought that it might be possible to race between seven and ten days and then pull out. But I know myself too well: I am a competitor and once I have started a race I find it traumatic to give up. Better to discover the Tour de France in 2014 when I will be better prepared.â€ť
After a learning experience on the UCI Europe Tour, stage victories in the Tour could well be an objective: â€śI have always had two dreams: the Olympic Games and the Tour de France.â€ť
The first has already come true â€“ or nearly â€“ since the Omnium at the London Games in which Coquard proved his agility, his speed and his punch. In memory of his silver medal he has tattooed the Olympic rings on his right biceps. At the Rio Games, in three yearsâ€™ time, he could well finally win gold. â€śItâ€™s in my mind but itâ€™s still a bit early,â€ť he admits. "If everything comes together, I could prepare Rio 2016.â€ť
Because he enjoys it, Coquard continues to train on the track every Tuesday and will probably race in a few Six Days next winter. But itâ€™s on the road that he is winning points in 2013. Last year, the UCI Europe Tour went to another sprinter, John Degenkolb (Team Argos-Shimano). An encouraging sign.