Gallopin and Bouhanni lay down markers for future in Ponferrada

French wait for Worlds medal continues

As he stood outside the Europcar team bus – on loan for the week to the French Cycling Federation – Tony Gallopin was struggling to decide if the glass was half full or half empty. In finishing sixth at the World Championships in the elite men's road race, he had lived up to his side of the bargain as a leader of the French team, but he was aware, too, that opportunities like Ponferrada don’t come around every year.

Gallopin had pilfered a fine stage win at Oyonnax at the Tour de France after cascading down the last descent into town, a finale that bore uncanny similarities to the drop from Mirador to the finishing line in Ponferrada. When he drifted across to an elite chasing group powered by Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) just over the top of the final climb on Sunday, a podium place – or more perhaps – was suddenly a distinct possibility.

The dream unravelled in the streets of Ponferrada, however. Lone escapee Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) stayed clear to take the world title – taking advantage of the hesitance amid the chasers – while Gallopin was unable to make inroads in the sprint for the medals and could only manage sixth.

“I’m happy and disappointed at the same time,” Gallopin said, a woolly hat pulled low over his forehead. “I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to the podium, but I was with riders who are quicker than me in the sprint. I wasn’t the fastest so I tried to use my strength.

“Following the very best was the aim and I worked for that. I knew the selection on the final climb would be made according to who had the legs, so I think I did a good race. I felt really good at the top of the climb, I was going well.”

Gallopin provoked the frustration of Gilbert when he refused to come through and help to propel the chasing group inside the final kilometre. By that point, his thoughts were perhaps trained on a medal rather than an unexpected rainbow jersey. He also had a bona fide sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, well-placed towards the front of the peloton just behind.

Indeed, Bouhanni himself was not far off making it over the top of Mirador in the same group as Gallopin. Just as at the Vuelta a España, the 24-year-old exhibited climbing skills beyond the range of most of the sprinting fraternity.

“I got over the top of the last climb in the top 10 but there were five or six about 15 metres in front of me and I couldn’t get back on,” Bouhanni explained. “The route was slippery and the descent was dangerous.”

In the bunch sprint for eighth place, Bouhanni was edged out by Alexander Kristoff (Norway) and John Degenkolb (Germany). It is purely hypothetical as to what their order would have been had the rainbow jersey been on the line but Bouhanni was nonetheless encouraged by a place in the top 10.

“I gave my maximum and I couldn’t do any better,” he said. “With an elevation gain of 4,200 metres, it was hard. The guys sacrificed themselves for Tony Gallopin and me, it’s just a pity we couldn’t get a medal.”

For Bouhanni and for Gallopin, both part of France’s apparent golden generation of young talent, Ponferrada was not just about the day itself, it was also a chance to stake a claim for World Championships yet to come. Each man felt he had passed muster.

“I had talked with [French coach] Bernard [Bourreau] and worked 200 per cent since the Tour to be ready,” Gallopin said. “I didn’t want to make big claims on leadership beforehand but the team put their confidence in me and I got a good result even if it was a pity to miss the podium.”

Bouhanni, meanwhile, will be two years stronger – and perhaps even faster – by the time the Doha World Championships come around, when Bourreau may well have to make a choice between bringing him or his longstanding rival Arnaud Démare.

“I’m not going to say I missed a golden chance today because there were five or six guys stronger than me on the last climb,” Bouhanni said. “I hope to come back on a circuit for pure sprinters in Qatar in two years’ time. I trained hard to win the title or a medal, not to finish in the top 10.”

Related Articles

Back to top