Riding the Tour de France in the yellow jersey on Bastille day must be a childhood dream for every French rider, but Tony Gallopin made his dream come. His large breakaway was no match for the solo move from stage winner Tony Martin, but they had enough of a gap for the Lotto-Belisol rider to move into the race lead. The 26 year-old French rider will wear the maillot jaune in the stage from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles on Monday, Bastille Day.
"Between dream and reality there's a massive difference. It was hard to make it happen. There was a chance to get the jersey and I took it. To be in the yellow jersey on Bastille Day in unbelievable," Gallopin said.
"I thought about it since the pavé stage [Wednesday]," Gallopin said. After that stage Gallopin was in seventh place overall at 1:45 from race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Team manager Marc Sergeant allowed him to chase his dream on Sunday. Entering stage 9 with a 3:32 deficit on Nibali meant that there was a chance that the Astana team would let him go.
"It was on his mind for a couple of days. He told me that he intentionally lost some time on Saturday but I told him it was still not a lot but it worked out," Sergeant said, adding that he knew Astana would not be trying too hard to keep the jersey. "They had announced it in the press a couple of times that if there was an opportunity they would be ok with it." As it turned out, Gallopin was the best placed rider of the large group that got away.
"This morning the team gave me carte blanche. I thank the team for believing in me. It was a hard battle to get in the breakaway. I suffered a lot," Gallopin said. What helped Gallopin too is that he's a likeable person and many riders seemed to grant him his day of glory. Not only the French riders in the breakaway but also Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"I felt the French solidarity in the breakaway. They were a big support for me. We worked very hard together with Europcar. I also had support from AG2R and Cofidis. Cancellara was my teammate for two years and that creates a bond. He taught me a lot about cycling. He was there today in the breakaway. We talked a bit. In the last bit he lent a hand to take the jersey by taking some pulls. It's a grand rider. I also have to thank the Astana team because they didn't chase until the end."
Gallopin is a rider with a pedigree. He's father Joël and his two brothers were all professional riders. Joël helped Joop Zoetemelk to a Tour de France victory in 1980. Uncle Alain is a team director at Trek Factory Team, for which Tony rode the last two years before joining Lotto-Belisol for the 2014 season. At the Trek team he picked up a lot from the now-banned team manager Johan Bruyneel.
"It was a short experience. Bruyneel knows cycling throughout. He taught me a lot tactically. My dad? I'm lucky to have a dad like him. He always worked for the others and that's what I picked up. Alain was my teacher. Laurent Fignon? Since I was a junior we were very close. He was something like a mental coach. He never lost confidence in me. He watched over me for more than ten years."
Lotto-Belisol team manager Marc Sergeant desperately wanted to attract the young Frenchman, but he had a hard time to finalize the deal with Bruyneel. "He told me it was one of his best riders, I knew that obviously. It took a lot of effort but it's paying off. Actually I was already happy when he won the Classica San Sebastian."
While walking through a batch of interviews in the post-race media zone it became obvious that Tony Gallopin would have a hard time to keep his yellow jersey for more than one day. The finish of Monday's stage lays on top of a first category climb, La Planche des Belles Filles, and comes after six other categorized climbs in the Vosges.
"I don't think about tomorrow just yet. Tomorrow is going to be hard with the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. I know the finish. The last time we did it I finished at two minutes. I'm tired after today's stage. Anyway, if I keep it it's a bonus but whatever happens this will remain a highlight in my career for sure. I'll try to recover as much as possible."
Marc Sergeant said his team would do an effort to keep the jersey without losing the focus on the final kilometres where things really mattered for their team leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck. "Belisol said: France is important for us, so this is super. We will certainly show our good intentions but we don't have the horse power anymore," Sergeant said.