As we near the end of 2023, it is time to reflect on the riders that won't make their way back into the peloton in 2024. Among them is Tony Gallopin. A French talent who ultimately fell short of expectations. A stylist who achieved beautiful victories in major races, but also succumbed to the pressure of competing for classifications. IDLProCycling.com takes one more look in the review mirror, recapping the career of the 35-year-old all-rounder.
Tony, like his father Joel, became a professional cyclist. A logical next step after winning several medals in major championships during his junior years, such as the European Championships and the World Championships, in both road racing and time trials. The young all-rounder thus entered the professional peloton with high expectations, as part of a generation of French riders that also included Pierre Rolland, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. At that point, it was anyone's guess what direction Gallopin would ultimately choose. He could climb, time trial, had a strong sprint and was even good in the hills.
After defeating Valverde and San Sebastián breakthrough, Tony was an established name in one-day races
As part of the Cofidis team, Gallopin debuted in the 2011 Tour de France, at the age of 23. He established himself as an attacker. Over the next two years, he continued this role, now riding for RadioShack, as a teammate for, among others, the Schleck brothers. During these years, the still young Frenchman was on a journey of discovery, without significant results. That changed suddenly when Gallopin broke away from the select lead group in the final of the 2013 Clásica San Sebastián.
He steadily built his lead over a group of pursuers, including Alejandro Valverde, a very young Mikel Landa and Roman Kreuziger. On the soaking wet descent, the RadioShack all-rounder carefully made his way downhill, managed to stay upright and ultimately secured a beautiful solo victory in the streets of the Basque seaside town. He defeated the absolute powerhouse in one-day racing, Valverde, who finished second.
This victory was the real breakthrough for Gallopin, who the following year, now serving with Lotto-Belisol, confirms his new status with a fifth place in the same race, a third place in Brabantse Pijl and a sixth position at the World Championships in Ponferrada. In San Sebastián, he would later finish second twice more. This seems to mark a turn in Gallopin's career, towards classic racing.
In 2015, he races his way to top-ten placements in Milan-San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, the Tour of Lombardy, again in Brabantse Pijl and in the Road World Championships. Thus, Gallopin is always on the list of contenders for the one-day races, even though truly big victories elude him. The Frenchman picks his days and is often good on those days. Yet other challenges also beckon, especially after the Tour of 2014.
Nibali's yellow jersey on loan as French hero on July 14th, and a brilliant Tour stage win in Oyonnax
When a large breakaway group manages to ride away from the peloton during the ninth stage of the French three-week race in 2014, Gallopin turns out to be the best-placed rider in the general classification. Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali, who has had the jersey since stage two, is willing to let it go. A well-known scenario in a grand tour, usually resulting in one big and happy surprise: a new, unexpected man in the leader's jersey. In this case, it's Gallopin, who dons the precious jersey in Mulhouse with great joy.
The following day is largely about Gallopin's yellow jersey, especially for the French. During the grueling Vosges stage to La Planche des Belles Filles, no less on the French national holiday "quatorze juillet" (July 14th), he drags himself up steep climbs. But it's not enough and he loses the yellow jersey to Nibali. However, Gallopin establishes his name as an all-rounder, attacker and perhaps an emerging general classification rider.
Looking back, that Tour already showed us what Gallopin's career would and would not encompass. After his day donning the yellow jersey, he slips back in the general classification, but in the eleventh stage to Oyonnax, Gallopin stuns with a move reminiscent of his victory in the Clásica. He sneaks away during the final phase of the tricky hill stage and stays one second ahead of the onrushing peloton, arms flung wide. Talk about having a knack for choosing the right breakaway…
The following year, for the first time, Gallopin truly focuses on riding for the general classification. His adventure in the yellow jersey offers hope for what he might achieve. Also, his sixth place in Paris-Nice seems like a good omen. In the highly competitive 2015 Tour, Gallopin hangs on for a long time in the Pyrenees, but completely collapses in the final week. He finishes only 31st. A disappointment, as he was still in the top ten up until stage sixteen.
Falling short in the general classification despite one more nice return to the spotlight, before slowly fading into cycling obscurity
Afterward, Gallopin scarcely achieved any more results in the arena that had been so fruitful for him in the first half of his career: the one-day races. First with Lotto-Soudal and later with AG2R-La Mondiale, the Frenchman was really viewed as a potential general classification rider. It's a switch many riders aspire to: reaching a top-ten position in a grand tour, as a logical next step after reaping results in tough one-day races.
In the 2018 Vuelta, he came very close. He finished eleventh in the general classification. He was so close that he harbored the ambition to actually enter the top ten in a grand tour the following year. Ultimately, it was a step Gallopin was unable to take. He no longer rode at the front in classics. But skipping the one-day races did not yield the switch to a top-ten spot in a grand tour. For those positions, and thus the necessary UCI points and airtime for his teams, he fell just short, especially in terms of the climbing work.
All the more ironic then that during a stage in that Vuelta, perfectly suited for him, he still achieved one of the greatest victories of his career: he magnificently stayed ahead of the charging peloton after a late attack. Just as he had won in San Sebastián and the Tour. By himself, just ahead of the rest. A beautiful and brief moment of glory. Escaping the reality that many riders were better than him. A moment in the spotlight, thanks to his fabulous racing insight. That was Gallopin in a nutshell. That's when he was at his best.
Those days would not be coming back. From corona-ridden 2020 onwards, Gallopin's flame began to slowly fade. No more outstanding performances, no more honorable finishes. The former yellow jersey wearer became just another rider in the peloton. The man with a knack for sneaky victories disappeared into cycling obscurity. Last summer, he finally made the decision. He'd had enough. At the age of 35, Gallopin retired from cycling.
Tony Gallopin was an elegant rider with a handsome face. A talented cyclist who oscillated between honorary finishes in major classics and top-ten ambitions in stage races. Ultimately, he was overtaken by new talent in the former category and fell short of real top placements in stage races. Thus, Gallopin had a cycling career with some superb highlights, but it ended up being paler and duller than one would have hoped or expected.
Next year, Gallopin will become team manager at Lotto-Dstny. There, he will be eager to pass on his racing insight to the next generation. On to that new horizon, Tony!