Within moments of crossing the finish line atop La Planche des Belles Filles at the end of stage 10, Thibaut Pinot’s initial disappointment at missing out on victory turned to satisfaction at his overall progress at this Tour de France.
A native of nearby Mélisey, Pinot grew up training on the climb and its inclusion on the route of the 2012 Tour saw him all but insist that manager Marc Madiot hand him his debut in the race at the tender age of 22.
On that occasion, the occasion seemed too much for Pinot, as he floundered at La Planche but he responded impressively with a stylish solo win at Porrentruy the following day, ahead of an eventual 10th place finish in Paris.
This time around, Pinot again confessed to a poor night’s sleep as the Tour entered his home patch, but he dealt well with the nerves. Although unable to match Vincenzo Nibali’s vicious attack with 2.5 kilometres remaining, the Frenchman was sufficiently strong of legs and cool of head to clip away to take second on the stage, 20 seconds down on the Italian.
“There’s some disappointment but I don’t have regrets,” Pinot said, according to L’Équipe. “I came across someone who was stronger than me. You can’t be frustrated when you’re beaten à la pedale.
“I had good sensations without being on a great day. In the leading group, everyone was tired, and once Nibali accelerated, it was a case of every man for himself.
“It’s a bit too short a climb for me, but I hope there’ll be another finish on La Planche in the coming years and that I’ll win that time. But so be it, I’m finally at my level on the Tour de France. After last year, that’s important.”
Last year, of course, Pinot lost his nerve – and huge swathes of time – on the descent of the Pailhéres before abandoning the Tour in the third week. That very public ordeal was perhaps the first significant setback of a seemingly preordained career path, but he recovered his stride quickly and without fuss to claim 7th overall at the Vuelta a España.
Pinot now lies 6th overall at the Tour, 3:47 off the yellow jersey of Nibali, but just a minute shy of the podium. On the evidence of La Planche des Belles Filles – and his back catalogue over his short professional career – there are few men left in contention who climb as smoothly as Pinot, but he insisted that his goals have not been revised upwards since the start in Leeds.
“My ambitions are the same: I want to be in top 10, and maybe pick up a few places [on 2012]. Then there’s a white jersey, which might come by itself. But you can lose everything at the Tour in a day, and we’ve just seen that again with [Alberto] Contador.”
Pinot does not feel, however, that Contador’s excision from the overall picture will grant him any additional artistic licence between now and Paris. He is too close to the maillot jaune to be allowed the freedom to chase stage wins and he will have to cut his cloth accordingly.
“There are going to be two races, one for the GC and the other for stage wins. Astana aren’t going to be able to control everything all the time, because nobody is going to give them a hand,” Pinot said.
“But for me, the Contador crash doesn’t change anything, I’m still aiming at the top ten, but instead of staying on the wheel of Nibali and Contador, I need to stay on the wheel of Nibali.”