Some people are natural-born leaders. And Frenchman Bryan Coquard most definitely falls into that category. Only 25 years old, Coquard is already a world track champion and Olympic medalist. And in 2018 he will be the leader of a new French Pro Continental team, Vital Concept (officially named the Vital Concept Cycling Club). PELOTON caught up with the dynamic young sprinter during his new team’s training camp in Spain this week to discuss the new direction his career is taking with a project that is very close to his heart.

Words: James Startt | Images: Startt and Vital Concept Cycling Club

PELOTON Magazine: Bryan, you are setting out on a totally new adventure as the leader of the Vital Concept team. It must be exciting….

Bryan Coquard: Yes, for sure, it’s exciting. But it is an adventure with risks, because it is a totally new project. I thought long and hard about it before jumping in, but since our first training camp I have had no doubts that this was the right decision. The Vital Concept Cycling Club has brought together a great group of people and we are all excited by the challenge.

PELOTON: It’s true that you could have gone down an easier path. Quick-Step Floors was just one of the teams that was interested in you, and you could have slipped right into a WorldTour team with an experienced lead-out train to help you in the sprints.

Coquard: Yes, but it is not because I am on a big team that I am going to have more opportunities. On a team like Quick-Step, it is not sure that I would have been the top sprinter. And it is uncertain that I would even have ridden in the Tour de France. And I have to say that the fact that I was not selected for the Tour this year with my Direct Energie team played a role in my decision to get behind this new project. If anything, I have a better chance to ride the Tour de France with Vital Concept than with a big team like Quick-Step Floors.

In a photo finish, Coquard lost a stage of the 2016 Tour de France by millimeters. He hopes to return to the Tour victorious in 2018 with his new Vital Concept team. But first the team must be invited.

PELOTON: In addition, it seems that you are just personally really involved with the project….

Coquard: Absolutely! I have know [team manager] Jérôme Pineau for a long time and we are very good friends. In addition, there are a lot of my old teammates from Europcar and Direct Energie, which certainly helped in the decision process as well. That said, we are not just a group of friends. We are here to work hard and win races.

PELOTON: One of the challenges will be putting a sprint train together for you. Are you a sprinter that needs a big train or can you freelance easily?

Coquard: Well, I can definitely freelance if need be, but it is always best to have a train whenever possible. But that is something we have definitely been working towards from the outset and we’ve hired several riders specifically for that purpose. There are guys like Kris Boeckmans (ex-Lotto-Soudal) or Bert De Backer (ex-Sunweb) with real lead-out experience on a big team. And let’s not overlook guys like Kevin Reza, who is very fast. They all have a lot of experience when it comes to sprinting.

PELOTON: Setting up a new team also entails tons of logistical work. Everything is new—bikes, wheels, shoes, clothes, you name it. Have you had a chance to get on the new Orbea bikes you will be racing in 2018?

Coquard: Yes, we’ve been testing them out and getting set up with them at the pre-season camps. Not surprisingly, I’ll be riding the Aero, as it is great for sprinting. I was able to get it set up and dial it in to my specs really easily, and it is stiff and responsive like I need.

PELOTON: Bryan, you first grabbed attention on the track. You earned an Olympic silver medal in the omnium while still an amateur during the 2012 London Games and you were world champion in the Madison event in 2015. Will you continue to divide your time between the road and track?

Coquard: Well, I will definitely be racing on the track less, as I need to focus on the road in the upcoming years. But the track gave me everything. It is my first love and in the springtime, when the weather permits, I will still go to my local velodrome in Pontchâtelaine for local racing on Tuesdays. The track is just so important for leg speed, bike handling, you name it.

Coquard says simply: “Track racing gave me everything. It is my first love.”

PELOTON: Who is the sprinter that impresses you the most?

Coquard: Well, I would say that there are two, Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Kittel is just so impressive for his pure power and speed and Cavendish for his longevity.

PELOTON: Well, you seem to be a bit more like Cavendish. You are both compact riders and really explosive. And both of you have had good results in some classics. Cavendish, of course, won Milan–San Remo early in his career and you had a top-five finish in the Amstel Gold Race in 2016, a very impressive result for a sprinter. Is that something you would like to focus on in the future?

Coquard: For sure. I love Amstel. It’s just a very special race with the repetition of climbs and the fans. And yes, after finishing fourth, it is a race I really want to come back and win. It suits me well for a variety of reasons. The climbs are good for me. And then it is a technical race, because we are constantly hitting these narrow roads. My bike-handling skills from the track really come in handy in a race like that, because I can really hold my position without losing a lot of energy. And that is just crucial in a race like Amstel.

But there is also Milan–San Remo. I only did it one year, back in 2014. But that was the year that it rained and snowed. I didn’t last too long. But I lasted long enough to see how beautiful it was. It is definitely a race that makes me dream.