Thibaut Pinot: I’m not at my best but I’m fighting at Tour de France

Cycling News
Cycling News

Thibaut Pinot on Saturday returned to the Tour de France stage podium for the first time since 2019, launching from the chase group on the final stages of the climb into Mende to underline French hopes that the rider who has faced a challenging period of injury recovery is now heading toward the Pyrenees with building form.

Both Pinot and his Groupama-FDJ teammate Stefan Küng made it into the break of the day on stage 14, which started out with more than 20 riders but was split when at 50km to go Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) charged off the front and then Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal), Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Bahrain Victorious) joined him.

Küng sacrificed himself early driving the pace for Pinot before dropping out of the group on the Côte de la Fage having done all he could to keep the gap under control. By the lower slopes of the final climb, with the 3km at 10.2%, the depleted chasing group had reeled in the margin to what was now a leading trio – Kron was. removed by a puncture – to around 20 seconds. As Matthews accelerated and dropped his companions Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) launched from the chase and while Pinot initially remained behind he pushed on near the top of the climb to pull back all but two riders before the line.

“I was not feeling great at the bottom”, said Pinot. “I tried to pace myself because my legs were already full of toxins.

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"I made my effort towards the summit with what I had left and couldn’t climb any faster. At the bottom, I wouldn’t even have thought that I could do what I did.”

Pinot finished 34 seconds behind Matthews and 15 seconds back from Bettiol, to take third and go one better than on stage 9 , where he finished fourth on the climb to Châtel after a relentless pursuit of stage winner Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën).

The performances that have taken Pinot to near the top of the results sheet at this Tour de France come after years of difficulties. The Groupama-FDJ rider who came third overall in the French Grand Tour in 2014 and has three stage victories in the race – the last being on top of the Col du Tourmalet on stage 14 in 2019 – battled with injury after crashing on the opening stage of 2020’s race. Then he missed the 2021 Tour altogether as he continued his recovery from the back injury he had incurred the year before. That was when he handed the GC reigns over to teammate David Gaudu, and it is where they have stayed this year as Pinot focusses on stage victories instead.

While the shift up to third was a move in the right direction, it wasn’t the step on the podium the French rider was hoping for and it was also the second time he’d seen an opportunity for victory slip through his fingers on the road to Mende. Pinot came second to Stephen Cummings on a stage that also finished in the town at the heart of Lozère in 2015.

“I’m very disappointed, but it was difficult to manage today,” Pinot said. “I don’t have much to regret. I didn’t have great legs, so I tried with what I had. I’m still missing a bit of form, but it’s positive nevertheless.

“I know I’m not at my best looking at my power data but I’m fighting. I’m waiting for the Pyrenees, and I think it will be even better there.”

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