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Tour de France 2014: Tony Gallopin sprints to success on stage 11 while Vincenzo Nibali stays in yellow

The Frenchman prevailed in Oyonnax

Three days ago, when he was leading the Tour, France’s Tony Gallopin experienced what he later called his “worst ever day on the bike, suffering like I’ve never suffered” in a futile defence of his yellow jersey. But yesterday the 26-year-old Lotto-Belisol rider struck back with a vengeance.

Late on a day of baking heat, which took the Tour on a brief but intense incursion through the Jura mountains, Gallopin initially hit out of a splintering pack to gain a few seconds advantage.

After a nerve-wracking descent on narrow, twisting roads towards the town of Oyonnax, Gallopin was caught by three more riders, including much-feared all-rounder and points jersey leader, Peter Sagan.

In a textbook late attack, Gallopin then powered out of the four-man move, as he said later, purely to avoid a sprint against the much faster Sagan. The speeding bunch closed in fast on the remaining three, but the Frenchman was able to take the win with five metres to spare.

“I had the idea of getting the yellow jersey in my head for five days before I got it, but this time it was a completely unpremeditated move, and I didn’t think the win was possible until there was 100 metres to go,” Gallopin said.

Gallopin’s classy victory continues a magnificent Tour for the French, with – to date – two stage wins in five days and his own 24-hour spell in the leader’s jersey just three of several reasons for French fans to celebrate. Four French riders are currently in the top 10 overall, Gallopin himself is lying fifth, while compatriot Romain Bardet is heading the Best Young Rider’s classification and a French team AG2R, are leading the Best Teams competition.

France's Tony Gallopin (front) sprints to secure his victory

Gallopin’s victory, too, was another triumph for one of France’s best-known cycling families. His father, Joel, rode the Tour four times, his uncle Alain is a sports director on the Tour with the Trek Factory team, and another uncle, Guy, holds the same post with a smaller French squad, Big Mat.

His girlfriend, Marionne Rousse is a professional racer and was French national champion in 2012. But their support for him, as Gallopin pointed out, is more than merely giving advice or boosting his morale. When on a camping holiday in the area this June with Rousse and his father, the two took Gallopin to reconnoitre the route of yesterday’s stage – knowledge that proved vital on the narrow mountain backroads.

“After seeing the route I thought those sort of tough roads might end up in a sprint of 20,” Gallopin said yesterday with a smile, “not that I would end up winning.”

On a day when the favourites did not come under too much pressure, race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s biggest worry came when a top team-mate, 2011 Giro d’Italia winner Michele Scarponi fell and crashed in the final hour. “Thankfully,” Nibali later said “he managed to come through without too many problems.”

That was far from the case for American Andrew Talansky, yet another of the Tour’s pre-race favourites to see his chances of success go up in smoke.

After hitting the tarmac on three separate occasions – stages five, seven and nine – and suffering from bad back injuries as a result, Talansky first lost contact with the main bunch around 80 kilometres from the line.

The Garmin Sharp rider, who won the Critérium du Dauphine in June, was in such pain that at one point that he dismounted and sat on a traffic guardrail in tears and the race organisation announced he had actually abandoned.

Following a long conversation with his sports director, the Garmin-Sharp rider remounted and continued, though, completely alone in front of the Tour’s broom wagon – the vehicle at the end of the race convoy with the sole mission of picking up riders who abandon.

“He had a really difficult day,” Garmin sports director Charly Wegelius said, “but he didn’t want to surrender. That’s typical Andrew.”

By this point, Talansky was so far behind the main peloton that even as the Tour’s leaders were passing over the summit of the final climb, Talansky was passing under the banner marking the top of the stage’s second last ascent, 16 kilometres further back.

However, the 25-year-old is not nicknamed the Pitbull by chance and he clung on to finish within the time limit. In fact, when Talansky crossed the line he might have been 32 minutes slower than stage winner Gallopin (as well as racking up a 20-second penalty for drafting behind his sport’s directors car). But the applause from the public for the American was no less thunderous.