MULHOUSE, France (AFP) — Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) dug in hard on the final 30km to ensure he would wrest the yellow jersey from Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali on Sunday and give France a timely boost in the Tour de France before Monday’s Bastille Day.
No Frenchman had worn the fabled race leader’s jersey since Thomas Voeckler held it for 11 days in 2011, also managing to grace the “fete nationale” parade in his sparkling yellow attire.
It completed a festive weekend for the French as Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) had been the first home rider to win a stage on this Tour — so far dominated by Germans, who have won five of the nine stages — on Saturday with his escape up to Gerardmer.
For Gallopin, this moment had been in his mind since Wednesday’s infamous fifth stage, after which he found himself within touching distance of the leaders.
“I’ve been thinking about this jersey since the cobbles stage. It was in a corner of my mind, which is why yesterday (Saturday) I didn’t want to lose too much time,” he said.
On Saturday, Gallopin shed just over a minute and 40 seconds to Nibali, leaving him 3:27 down on the overall standings.
On Sunday, Gallopin came home in a group more than five minutes ahead of the race leader and now holds a 1:34 lead over the Italian, whose Astana team made little attempt to conserve the jersey.
Right from Saturday morning Gallopin had been given the green light to leave team leader Jurgen Van Den Broek and go after the yellow jersey.
“We spoke in the briefing and they gave me carte blanche,” he said. “I jumped on anything that moved. It was an hour-long battle.
“If Astana wanted to give away the jersey, I was at the ideal distance, three and a half minutes.
“Now I’m going to wear it on the national day.”
Gallopin has no delusions of grandeur, though, and doesn’t expect to keep the yellow jersey.
Monday’s slog from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles includes seven categorized climbs and a brutal first-category ascent to the finish line.
“It’s not the best stage to keep it but I’ll do my best,” Gallopin said. “I’ve been working very hard since the beginning, working for (sprinter André) Greipel and I’m starting to pay for that.”
Gallopin, whose girlfriend Marion Rousse is also a cyclist, has deep roots in the sport. His father, Joel, was a cyclist, as were uncles Guy and Alain.
Alain Gallopin is the sporting director at Trek Factory Racing and managed his nephew the previous two years with Radio Shack.
“He’s the best French rider but we don’t talk a lot about him,” said the proud uncle. “Now we’re going to be forced to talk about him.
“He was close to the yellow jersey two years ago when Thibaut Pinot won the stage (at Porrentruy). He was also the virtual yellow jersey wearer during the cobbles stage this year. I think he deserves this.”
Gallopin admits he owes a lot to his family.
“My father taught me respect in cycling. He was a domestique; he never had the chance to be a leader but always worked for others.
“My uncle Alain took over the baton and was like a coach, even when we were no longer in the same team.
“My family has formed my character and it’s also thanks to them that I’m here.”