Ten years in the making, French sprinter Bryan Coquard celebrated his first WorldTour win, claiming stage four of the Tour Down Under as Jay Vine retained the overall lead.
Coquard (Cofidis) took his chances on the uphill drag to the line in Willunga and went long, kicking first into a headwind to finish clear ahead of Alberto Bettiol (EF Education – EasyPost) and Hugo Page (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) in a reduced bunch sprint.
Coquard has celebrated many victories since turning professional with Europcar in 2013, but this was his first WorldTour win and the 30-year-old was elated when talking to media behind the podium.
“I’m very happy to win my first WorldTour race,” he said. “Ten years ago I wait for this win and it’s a lot of, I think before this win, I win 49 or 48 [times before] but never [in a] WorldTour race.
“I’m very happy. It’s my first objective this year, to win in WorldTour and [to do so] before the final of January, it’s perfect.
“I take this opportunity today and it’s perfect.”
Michael Matthews maintained the points jersey but admitted he didn’t have the legs in the final after his Jayco Alula team animated the 133.2km flat race, which saw the peloton buffeted by crosswinds.
“After yesterday’s performance from myself I had really high hopes for today,” Matthews said after placing sixth. “Unfortunately, the legs weren’t there. I struggled most of the day, really tried to profit from some of the sprinters missing the front group in the crosswind there, but all through the day it was a battle against myself. I wasn’t good enough today.”
Caleb Ewan, who along with his Lotto Dstny lead-out man Jarrad Drizners is competing with a depleted Australian national team at the race, also didn’t have the firepower to match Coquard on Saturday, finishing 10th.
“He’s really good on a finish like this, uphill,” said Ewan of his rival. “He’s a small sprinter like me and if he gets the jump, it’s hard to close the gap on him.
“I was kind of coming and saw how far in front he was and kind of knew the race was over there.”
The stage was the last chance Ewan and the sprinters had at the Tour Down Under, which concludes on Sunday with a 112.5km run from Unley to a summit finish at Mount Lofty, where the title will be decided.
Ewan didn’t miss any of the splits on stage four but wasn’t in the right position in the final.
“It was really a finish where you needed teammates,” Ewan said.
“It was a big headwind; we had to really take the gamble and sit behind and it’s just so easy to get swamped there. We did one big effort to come back to the front but to be honest it kind of killed me a little bit and then I was struggling to fight for position again and there were teams coming from every side.
“I was way too far back in the sprint. I knew I was too far back, and I tried to gamble and hope that something opened for me, and I could come with speed, but I just didn’t have the legs in the final, especially with an uphill like that.”
Vine has been formidable in what is his first stage race with new team UAE Emirates, with his upward trajectory in the WorldTour gathering pace.
The 27-year-old ensured he wasn’t caught out in the crosswinds, with he and his team prominent at the front of the race. Vine has a 15 second advantage on both Simon Yates (Jayco Alula) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), who are second and third on general classification respectively, heading into the fifth and final stage.
"It was pretty stressful," Vine said of the stage. "There was one point there where I was like, 'Oh, we're going to have an easy day.' I was happy, smiling, waving to some families on the side of the road, and then 45 kilometres in it was just on, and it was on until the end there.
"It was a very hard day. A lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning but still good. We have an amazing team, I think we had six guys in the front group helping me, clear instructions from the car. All round communication was fantastic."
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1