Tony Gallopin was still a boy the last time France tasted victory in the elite men's World Championship road race. He barely remembers the day Laurent Brochard's mullet and bandana flashed across the line in San Sebastian in 1997 but on Sunday Gallopin and his teammates will have their own chance to repeat that victory.
Of course Brochard's victory is a symbol for a generation that cycling may want to forget but the jersey that France captured that day remains one of cycling's most prestigious prizes.
"You know I was nine then," Gallopin told Cyclingnews this week. "I know the final from that year as I have watched all the World Championships on YouTube but I was too young to really remember that."
It has been ten years since France even made the podium in the elite men's World race and no rider in the current WorldTour peloton has made the top three since.
"What I know is that France needs and craves a men's World Champion. For the people the Tour means the most but now we need to win a Classic, a Monument or the Worlds. We saw that last year in the women's race. If we can do that as a team it would be wonderful," Gallopin said.
Gallopin starts the race as one of France's options for Sunday, although the squad have other options with Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni and Julian Alaphilippe. It's a team that lack a clear cut favourite and leader but what they lack in star-studded legends they make up for in grafters, sprinters and opportunists. On a course that could be hard to read, and with a technical finish, these elements could turn out to be key.
Gallopin has worked hard on his form in recent months and since the team trial last weekend he has spun his legs, relaxed and found composure within the French camp. It has helped that they've picked up a gold in the men's U23 race and another medal in the elite time trial too.
"I've had a good week since I've been here and I've recovered well since the team time trial. I'm confident and I'm happy with my form coming into this race based off what I did in the Canadian races," he said.
"But I can't say that I'm a favourite because we have a lot of guys but within our French team have a number of outsiders. I don't think we're in the same bracket as guys like Kristoff, the Germans or Australia who have someone like Matthews."
An aggressive race
Gallopin's likely role is to make the race aggressive and attack on the final set of climbs before the finish. His sprint might be better than average but his chance will come if he arrives at the line with a small group. It means that Demare and Bouhanni – if they work together – will have the chance to sit back, follow wheels and wait for a big group sprint.
The rivalry between Bouhanni and Demare may worry many, given the fact that Bouhanni left FDJ and Demare behind after a lack of opportunities but Gallopin is not concerned.
"I think there's no problem but I think it's good to have a number one sprinter and then another just in case one has bad legs or crashes. They're both good but I don't know who the number one is. Maybe Bouhanni is a bit more confident but I'm not the coach. So far from what I've seen they'll work together and from my perspective I think that it's good to have two sprinters. It also means that we can place cards and look at different scenarios."
However Gallopin stressed that inter-team politics would only hamper the team's strategy. After all, they have the chance to win a rainbow jersey and thus help French cycling rejoice over a jersey they've not held for what seems like an eternity.
"The rainbow jersey is the one that every cyclist can dream about. It means that for an entire year everyone give you respect and you're the man of the peloton. It's the most important one day race of the year. It's hard to imagine bringing back the jersey to the team hotel but you just need to go into the race without stress. If it's your day, it's your day."
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