12 years since France last scored a medal in the men's World Championship road race, a squad of mostly punchy riders led by Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) will look to turn things around this week in Bergen, Norway.
Alaphilippe, however, is not the only potential contender on a roster with multiple cards to play. Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) gives the squad a viable second option. The pair of Worlds top 10s on his career palmares gives him the best Worlds results of anyone on team, seven of whom are under the age of 30.
Gallopin, who delivered top 10s in the GPs Québec and Montréal during his pre-Worlds build-up, acknowledges that several big names will shine more brightly as pre-race favourites in Norway than anyone on his squad. He's not worried.
"We are outsiders, that's for sure," he told Cyclingnews in Quebec City. "The big favourites are the sprinters who can go really well in the climb. Sagan, Matthews, Van Avermaet, even Kristoff or Boasson Hagen. So I don't think we are big favourites but that's what's nice about cycling – it's not always the favourites that win the race."
With the likes of Nacer Bouhanni and Bryan Coquard staying home, the French team will have no choice but to ride an aggressive race if they want a chance at winning.
"It's the World Championships, anything can happen. Sure, it's a long time that we haven't gotten a medal but we're going to try like every year. We've now been in the top 10 a couple of years in a row so that means we are close," Gallopin said.
"This year we're going without a sprinter so I think we have to try something with an attack. We have a really good group so we'll see what can happen."
Bergen, one Europe's rainiest cities, could lend a hand to the French cause.
"I hope for a hard day, a long day in the rain and the cold. And then it's a different race. I think after 250k, it's different riders. It's more difficult to control the race," Gallopin said.
With top 10s in both Canadian races and runner-up honours at the Grand Prix de Wallonie, Gallopin looks to be rounding into form. He says he's been all-in for Bergen ever since taking a short break at the end of July.
"I split my seasons in three parts. First is Paris-Nice and the Classics, and then it's time for the Tour, and then after the Tour and San Sebastian I take a break, and for me the World Championships is the most important race at the end," he said. "Canada, Lombardia are also important, but for me, two times in the top 10 in the Worlds, it's a really important race for me and I'm focused 100 per cent on the race."
With Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) developing into bona fide Grand Tour contenders and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) claiming the country's first Monument in nearly 20 years at last season's Milan-San Remo, French cycling has enjoyed an upswing in results recently after a long stretch without much to cheer for. Success at Worlds remains elusive, but for Gallopin it's a matter of continued progress.
"It would be really nice for France, for the country and for cycling in France, to have a World Championship," he said. "Now we have riders back in the Tour de France GC, which we also missed for 10 or 15 years. So we're in a good way and I think we have to keep going like this."
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