From the depths of despair to the height of elation, Groupama-FDJ‘s Thibaut Pinot has known it all this week. “I was down and out,” he said of last Monday, when crosswinds caught hold of his dream start to the Tour de France and shattered it to pieces. “I took a blow like I’ve rarely taken before.”
If Pinot was able to open up about the emotions of stage 10, it was because they had just been purged. Standing on the top step of the podium at the top of the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday as the winner of stage 14, he was a world away from his former pain.
“Spectacular, extraordinary, magical,” was how he put it.
Pinot, by his own admission, has not always been the best at dealing with adversity, especially on the roads of France in July. Yet, he has channelled his disappointment perfectly in the past few days.
In Friday’s individual time trial, the first GC fixture since Monday, he produced a strong ride to reintroduce himself to the fight for the podium. On Saturday, he won atop the Tourmalet, taking his third career Tour de France stage victory on one of the race’s most iconic mountains.
“I’ve been fired up since Monday. For me, it was an injustice to have lost that time – we didn’t deserve that. There was a strong desire for revenge,” he said.
“I was truly frustrated, but I’m surrounded by a team that have confidence in me. Monday evening wasn’t a party, but since the rest day we set our heads back in place, and we set out again more motivated than ever. Yesterday, I had that in me. Today, I thought about it on the final climb, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t finish this Tour without winning a stage.'”
Pinot’s victory will spark debate about his prospects of glory in Paris, but it’s interesting that he sat up and started celebrating before he hit the line. He wasn’t a long way off, and it wouldn’t have made much difference, but the general classification seemed far from his mind.
He was wrapped up in the moment.
“Today, I had goosebumps all the way up the Tourmalet. It was the sort of intense atmosphere I love. In terms of a career, winning at the top of the Tourmalet, it means something,” he said.
“This victory, I’d marked it out since the start of the Tour. I’ve always had that in me, that hunger for victory. For me, it’s important to win. The more you win, the more you want to win – it’s an eternal circle,” he said.
Pinot’s last Tour de France stage win came at Alpe d’Huez in 2015, three years after he’d burst onto the scene with a solo victory in Porrentruy. He won a stage of the Giro d’Italia in 2017, and his miserable exit from the Italian Grand Tour last year was followed later in the year by a remarkable run: two stages at the Vuelta a Espana, Milano-Torino and Il Lombardia.
“The emotions are so strong. I wanted to feel those emotions again, the ones I’ve known in the past,” Pinot said.
Podium in Paris
The topic of conversation was bound to come round to the future, and where this leaves Pinot in the race for the final yellow jersey.
He’s now sixth overall, 3:12 down on a seemingly invincible Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and 1:10 down on a suddenly fallible Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos). Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk is third, 58 seconds ahead, Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal fourth, 12 seconds ahead, and Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is fifth, on the same time.
While Pinot won’t need reminding that he’d be in second place were it not for the crosswinds, there is still reason to believe. Doubts abound, whether it’s Alaphilippe’s ability to go the distance, Kruijsiwjk’s pedigree, Thomas’ form, Bernal’s experience, and the power of Team Ineos as a whole. What’s more, Pinot, at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6 and on the Tourmalet on Saturday, has shown showed himself to be the strongest climber in the race.
“Today, yes, maybe,” he responded when that was put to him. “But there are so many stages to go. There’s Sunday, which is very hard. You have to recover. The days that follow victory have never been my strong point.
“Anyone can have a jour sans. I could have one on Sunday, or somewhere in the Alps. You have to stay grounded.”
While he was cautious about talking up his chances of winning the Tour de France, he was nevertheless happy to reveal his desire to make the podium.
“The next objective is the podium in Paris. I have that in mind and I know I’m capable of it, even if 1:40 has gone down the drain,” he said. ”I have eight days to go and I’m going to do everything to achieve it.”