On signing for Lotto-Belisol last autumn, Frenchman in exile Tony Gallopin endeared himself instantly to his hosts by shyly expressing a fondness for Flemish beer over red wine. When it comes to matters on the road, Gallopin’s tastes are also distinctly Belgian, although it remains to be seen if he will ultimately produce his finest vintage on the cobbles of Flanders or in hills of the Ardennes.
While over at BMC, Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet have made firm decisions this year to narrow their focus in the spring, the 26-year-old Gallopin is content to continue to explore his possibilities in all of the Classics for the time being. As he sees it, unless you are part of the very upper echelon of potential winners, there is little point in limiting your options.
"For me personally, I prefer the Flemish Classics but then the Ardennes races – Amstel and Liège especially – probably suit me better," Gallopin said in Oostkamp on Thursday afternoon. His spring programme is a full one: he lines up at E3 Harelbeke on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday before tackling the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"Maybe in two or three years, if I’m really capable of winning one of them, then I’ll have to make a choice, but for now I still want to learn and I need the experience. I like all of these races and right now I don’t want to dedicate myself to just one unless I can really win it."
Not that Gallopin’s first foray on the cobbles in the colours of Lotto-Belisol will be a purely exploratory one. The Frenchman impressed during his two years in the service of Fabian Cancellara at RadioShack, but after landing victory in the Clasica San Sebastian last summer, he opted to make the switch to Belgium in order to chase his own ambitions.
"Before it was 100 percent for Fabian, whereas now I’ll have more of a chance to take play my own hand in the finale," he said. "I want to do the best I possibly can. Together with Jürgen Roelandts, we can do something in the Classics this year, but it’s hard to say at this point that I’m looking for a win or a podium finish. I’m still missing a bit of experience."
Gallopin is adamant, too, that there will be no conflict of interests with Roelandts, who seems to be racing with increased élan after claiming third place at the Tour of Flanders twelve months ago. "We haven’t really spoken about it specifically yet but given his experience and his results, I think he deserves more respect and responsibility in the team," Gallopin said. "We’ll have to see how things go in the finale of these races, but if Jürgen is feeling well, then I’ll have no problem working for him."
E3 Harelbeke provides something of a dress rehearsal for the main event on April 6. It may be 50 kilometres shorter than De Ronde, but the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont on the parcours and all of the contenders are in action on Friday. Last season, Lotto looked to anticipate Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, and Gallopin stressed the importance of strength in numbers in the finale.
"We’ll need to try something. We’ve got a lot of cards to play and that’s ideal for us because we don’t have a leader to build everything around like Trek with Cancellara, for instance," Gallopin said. "I think we’re outsiders and we can do something really very good."
Gallopin displayed solid form at Paris-Nice, where he finished 10th overall, but he admitted that he was still feeling the effects of his crash on the final stage when he lined up at Milan-San Remo a week later. "I was missing something on the Poggio, but it’s still good to have done those 300 kilometres as preparation for these races."
As well as being physically ready for the classics, Gallopin has noted, too, that the atmosphere is a little different on a Belgian team as Flemish cycling’s Holy Week approaches. "I can feel that I’m riding for a home team here and there’s a particular expectation – as I can see here with the journalists today," smiled Gallopin, who was speaking to a small delegation aboard the Lotto team bus outside their classics base in Oostkamp. "I can feel that the classics are very important for the team and that’s a good thing, because these are the races that are important to me."