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Thibaut Pinot makes his first podium appearance at the Tour de France
France's top young stage racer says suspicion comes automatically with leading the Tour
France's top young stage racer, 22-year-old-Thibaut Pinot has told the newspaper L'Equipe that whilst he knows he has been beaten by dopers in the past, he can no longer use that as an excuse for not winning races.
"I know that some guys have beaten me because they were doped, but I can't take that as a valid excuse any longer," the FDJ-Big Mat rider told the French newspaper.
"I've beaten doped riders, and if I can beat some then I can beat others. That's what I tell myself. I no longer make a difference."
Asked by L'Equipe if being beaten by somebody about whom he has suspicions made him more angry, Pinot responded, "yes, but that's how it is.
"When I'm on the bike, I don't think about it, nor when I'm in the team bus after racing. It's more afterwards, when I tell myself I could have won this or that if...but I'm not sad either. You know the risks. You have to accept them."
Already tenth overall and a stage winner in the Tour de France at just 22, Pinot said one of the toughest things to handle was that there had never been so much talk about doping in the media when in fact he believed so little was actually going on.
"That's what is hard at the moment, but from the moment you have the yellow jersey in a Tour, whoever you are, there will be suspicion."
"If I have the yellow jersey, that suspicion will be there also. But for the moment I'm a long way from that. I have problems imagining myself in that situation, I've never asked myself that question:"
Looking at Lance Armstrong himself, Pinot was only nine when the American won his first Tour de France, back in 1999.
"I thought he was a machine," he said to L'Equipe. "I remember him overtaking [Sylvain] Chavanel and patting him on the shoulder" - in a mountain stage of the 2003 Tour de France. "[When you saw that] you told yourself they were worlds apart."
Pinot says he has never been offered a doping product. However, he accepts that even though he had nothing to do with that era, the heritage of that generation - the suspicion, the sweeping questions and generalisations about doping - continues to form part of the current landscape of professional cycling.
"We have to live with it, the history is there. The old guys haven't given us a present [with that], it's unfortunate for us. We will always have this image of the doped rider and to break away from that will be very hard."
Pinot found that out for himself when at the 2013 Tour presentation, when he was besieged by journalists asking questions about doping and he had no idea what to say. "We didn't talk about the bike, we talked about Armstrong [and] the rest was on a second level. I hope we are going to move onto a new chapter as soon as possible."
However, he believes that compared to other generations of clean riders, who had no choice but to race against those who were doped, he is luckier.
"I haven't the right to complain compared with the previous generation. They really lived through the time of the heavy-duty blood doping and with EPO, organised within the teams. Now I don't think that system really exists, nothing more than isolated cases. It's not the same doping. And above all I think there is ten, 20, thirty times less than ten years ago. That's why we can't complain. For racing at a high level, now, the conditions are really good."