Tony Gallopin might not have experienced the mania of Tour de France success like he did in 2014, but he feels he came a long way last year and is eager to continue his progression this term, to a point where he is standing on the podium of a monument.
The Frenchman, who won a stage and held the maillot jaune at the 2014 Tour, might have had less eye-catching wins last year, but he feels his consistency over the course of the season as a whole made it an even more pleasing campaign. Having won a stage at Paris-Nice early in the season, he went on to record top-10 finishes at Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race, the Grand Prix de Québec, the World Championships and Il Lombardia.
“The Tour is so important that if you do a good Tour then all of a sudden it becomes a great season, but I think for the season as a whole it was better in 2015,” Gallopin told Cyclingnews after a training ride in Mallorca, where Lotto Soudal have gathered ahead of the season.
“I managed a level of consistency in the one-day races, and that’s really important for me. It’s there where I’ve progressed a lot and where I want to continue in the future as well.”
There has been talk of Gallopin, a true all-rounder who was sixth overall at Paris-Nice last year, developing into more of a general classification rider, one who could compete over three weeks. That theory was given weight at the 2015 Tour, where he went in with the mere ambition of winning a stage or two but found himself in and around the top 10 right up to stage 17 and the Alps.
“The first summit finish which Froome won, I stayed at the front just to try it out and I was up in the top 10 with all the top riders, so we said ‘Ok let’s do the Pyrenees’, and that went well, too. By the second rest day I was still 10th on GC and the team was showing real faith in me,” explained Gallopin.
“After that, though, I just exploded. It was a good experience – I proved to myself that I could do well in the mountains – but the last week was too much for me.”
‘The Classics remain my priority’
Despite the encouraging signs, Gallopin has not been tempted to return to the Tour to give the GC a serious crack. It may happen one day, but the 27-year-old is resolute in his insistence that his immediate future lies in the one-day races.
“Maybe my ambitions will change in a few years but for now the goal is to win a big Classic – that remains my priority, more than the Tour,” he said, marking out the Ardennes triptych of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as his “most important week of the year”.
While his compatriot Julian Alaphilippe was able to crack the podium at Flèche and Liège on his debut appearances this year, Gallopin admits he is a slower bloomer, but is no less content with his current level.
“He [Alaphilippe} is an exception. In my case, over the years and with work, I’m progressing bit by bit, but he was able to arrive straight away – he’s an exceptional talent.
“Every year I’ve had as a pro I’ve had a sense of progression. That’s the most important thing, I’ve still got a lot of ambition. Top 10s were a big objective last season, and next year I want to be getting top fives, podiums, at the big races. I want to get at least on the podium in a big monument.”
Gallopin will not be Lotto Soudal’s undisputed leader for the Ardennes given that the team is also home to Belgian Tim Wellens, winner of the past two editions of the Eneco Tour. Both are ambitious for results, and decisions will have to be made out on the road, with Jelle Vandenert set to play a key role as road captain.
“We’re slightly different riders,” Gallopin said of Wellens. “He’s more attacking than me whereas I’m a bit quicker than him in the sprint.
“With Wellens it’s two years now we’ve been together and it’s never been a problem. In the team we don’t have a big, big favourite – more outsiders like myself and Tim, so for us it allows us to play the right card on the day, and to mix up the tactics a little bit.”
After the spring and the Tour, Gallopin hopes he’ll be heading to Rio to contest an Olympic Games road race that will play out on a course on which he feels he could do some damage.
Pretty much every rider who has been out to Brazil to see the course has described it as one for the climbers, and Gallopin is no different, having ridden the test event last year. While grabbing one of the French team’s four spots will be an uphill struggle given the presence of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet to name but two strong French grimpeurs, Gallopin feels he could be something of a dark horse.
“I’d like to be there because the finish isn’t at the top of a climb; there’s a very technical descent and then some flat. I’m confident that at top form I could be there in the final with the selection.
"I would happily mix it up by attacking early, but we’ll have to see. There are only four spaces in the team and we have a lot of good climbers."