After finishing second in each of the past three years, Tony Gallopin finally inscribed his name on the roll of honour at Etoile de Bessèges after he won Sunday’s concluding time trial to secure final overall victory in the race.
The Frenchman, who joined AG2R La Mondiale from Lotto Soudal during the off-season, will hope that the early triumph bodes well for his spring campaign and Paris-Nice in particular.
Gallopin had been beaten by Bob Jungels, Jerome Coppel and Lilian Calmejane at Etoile de Bessèges in recent seasons, though he has always performed strongly in the traditional final time trial that finishes on the Montée de l’Hermitage above Alès.
On Sunday, Gallopin won the 12km test for the second successive year to divest Marc Sarreau (FDJ) of the yellow jersey and claim the Etoile de Bessèges title ahead of Christophe Laporte (Cofidis).
“In the past years, I’d just come up against people who were stronger than me, but it was still a disappointment,” Gallopin told L’Équipe. “It’s a race I wanted to have on my palmarès, and it’s reassuring to have done it, especially since I’m on a new team. It’s a good start, we’re on the right track.”
With Romain Bardet – who will miss the next two weeks through injury – due to ride Tirreno-Adriatico this year, Gallopin is set to lead AG2R La Mondiale at Paris-Nice, and the Race to the Sun is the centrepiece of the 29-year-old’s early season. Gallopin led Paris-Nice into the final day in 2015 after claiming a daring win on the penultimate day, but he faded to 6th overall following the concluding Col d’Eze time trial.
“The number one objective in the beginning of the season is definitely Paris-Nice, and then after that there are the Classics, which come straight afterwards, so it’s going to be a very busy period,” said Gallopin, who believes he will enjoy greater support at Paris-Nice on his new team.
“I will be supported 100 per cent. At Lotto-Soudal there were five riders for [André] Greipel and I was quickly isolated when we got to the last weekend.”
Gallopin is slated to ride all of the cobbled Classics bar Paris-Roubaix, as well as Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold Race, before slipping into a supporting role on behalf of Bardet at the Tour de France in July.
“That’s also one of the reasons I signed here, to be in a team that can win the Tour with Romain,” he said. “I think I can play a role like [Michal] Kwiatkowski at Sky. I can go a long way in the mountains. Last year I finished 21st overall without targeting the GC.”
For now, however, the 29-year-old Gallopin is pleased to mark his return to a French team after six years on foreign squads with a victory. His next outing will come at Tour La Provence, which gets underway on Thursday.