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Thibaut Pinot's final-season debut buffeted by crosswinds in Bessèges

By Patrick Fletcher,


Thibaut Pinot vowed to make the most of every moment of his final season, but there was no real opportunity for enjoyment as he kicked it off at the Etoile de Bessèges on an opening stage buffeted by crosswinds.

The Frenchman, who announced last month that he'll retire at the end of 2023, came through the day largely unscathed, but there was panic as he was caught out when the bunch split in the final 60km. It wasn't the easy final season debut he was perhaps hoping for.

Despite those losses, Pinot remains determined to fight for overall success. He'll have to endure a short final-day time trial, albeit a slightly uphill one, but has his sights set on Saturday's penultimate stage and its finish on Le Mont Bouquet (4.6km at 9%).

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"There's always tension on those stages but we remain focused. The stage I've highlighted is the Mont Bouquet, with a nice finish," Pinot told L'Equipe , who noted a huge turn-out and support for the Frenchman from the public.

"I suspect people will talk a lot about my retirement and it will be a threat throughout the year, but I'm not thinking about that," Pinot said, true to character.

"I started training early, in November, in order to have a strong start to the season. It's also a choice to race a lot in France and Italy, the two countries I love, and I'm expecting a lot of encouragement, but the best present I can give the fans is a victory."

Pinot has a chequered relationship with crosswinds, notably enduring a nightmare day on his rollercoaster 2019 Tour de France . There might have been a flash of déjà-vu as echelons began to form and he watched the front of the race disappear, with not a single Groupama-FDJ rider in the front group of 30.

"We knew it was going to split. There were two or three points that were open to it. In the end it happened in the same place as last year," explained Groupama-FDJ director Thierry Bricaud.

"It wasn't a long stretch - barely 2km - but it was enough. Up front there were a lot of specialists, Belgians, who know these conditions by heart. We were caught out, simply because we weren't far enough forward, for different reasons."

"We tried to ride immediately to limit the gap, as everyone checked who was where. Then other teams with the same interests came to ride. All our riders contributed to the chase, including Thibaut. Once the day starts like that, everyone has to bring their brick to the building, otherwise you risk it all."

It was a long chase, but eventually the Pinot peloton returned with just over 10km remaining.

"On a headwind section, it stalled a little up front, and that allowed us to come back," added Bricaud. "Somewhat miraculously, we rectified the situation but these aren't days you want to repeat."

The stage ended with a sharp kick up the Côte de Bellegard - 700 metres at 8% - where Arnaud De Lie (LottoDstny) claimed victory as the bunch fragmented again. Pinot rolled home in 30th place at 15 seconds, losing around 10 seconds to general classification contenders like Mattia Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo), Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroen), Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech) and the EF-EasyPost duo of Neilson Powless and Andrea Piccolo.

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