Thibaut Pinot will be able to count on total backing from his FDJ teammates as he attempts to repeat or improve on last year's third place finish in the Tour de France. FDJ manager Marc Madiot repeatedly underlined his team's focus on Pinot in the French outfit's pre-race press conference, emphasizing that sprinter Arnaud Démare will only be allowed opportunities in bunch finishes if Pinot's interests are already secure.
"The team will focus primarily on Pinot and only if there are opportunities in sprints will some of the guys get behind Démare," Madiot said with his two big names sitting to his right. To further highlight his team's tactic, he added: "I can assure you that there will definitely be no FDJ riders taking off at kilometre zero with the aim of getting into a breakaway."
For Madiot, the keys to the race are getting his leader safely through a very tricky first week and making sure all of his riders save all of the resources they can for the third week of the race. "We'll see after the first third of the race how things have gone. We hope to be in the fight for the GC, we're also hoping for a stage victory, but that will depend on the weather conditions. We'll have to take things day-by-day and see how we cope with the various obstacles," explained the Frenchman.
Madiot spoke at some length about the significance of the team time trial on stage nine. "We need to keep all of the riders as fresh as possible for that, which is why we won't be asking riders to try to get into breaks. We've improved a lot in the team time trial, and we need to take advantage of that improvement," he said.
Madiot described himself as "very happy with the nine riders we have here" and with Pinot's growing stature as a team leader. As for FDJ's 25-year-old leader, he insisted he has already confirmed last year's podium finish with his performances in the three week-long stage races he's contested this season.
"I finished fourth in Tirreno, Romandie and Switzerland," he said, "but the Tour de France is a different kettle of fish. I've got a lot of ambition, but I can only contemplate bigger ambitions after the first week.
"You have to judge very carefully the risks you take during the first week, especially as there are 30 riders here who want a top 10 finish. But after the first week it could be that as many as 10 of those will be out of the race without even seeing the Pyrenees."
Pinot said he has checked out the cobbled stage on day four to Cambrai and the Mur de Huy stage the day prior to that. "Some of my teammates have been to check out the team time trial course and I've seen footage of that," he added. "But, above all, the first week will all hinge on how the weather turns out."
For his part, Démare said he is happy to play a support role for Pinot. "I'll support Thibaut in whatever way I can, but if I get some opportunities to try something for myself I will be ready. I feel more relaxed coming into this year's Tour than last year's, which was my first and where I had the added weight of wearing the French champion's jersey and then being hindered by an early crash," explained the sprinter.
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