One of the big revelations of this Tour de France has been young Frenchman Thibaut Pinot from FDJ-Big Mat. The 22-year-old is the youngest rider at the event, and it is also the very first Grand Tour of his career, but all of these circumstances didn't stop him from taking a stage victory and possibly finishing in the top 10 overall in Paris. Pinot finished fourth on the second mountain stage of the Pyrenees in Peyragudes, losing just a few seconds on the best riders, and now hopes to save his current 10th placing over the last time trial.
The young climber was happy with what he achieved in the Pyrenees, even if he conceded some time in stage 16 to Bagnères-de-Luchon. "I had one mediocre day and one good day, so all in all the Pyrenees went OK for me. In the end, I took back a bit of time on the guys that are behind me, so the overall outcome is good," he told Cyclingnews at the start of the transitional stage up to Brive-la-Gaillarde on Friday.
Pinot confirmed that for a 22-year-old Tour rookie, it must be an awesome experience to finish one of he race's key mountain stages with the very best riders. "Yes, it's impressive and I enjoy it very much. Plus, the spectators really push you on, so it's a great experience."
The Frenchman's performance throughout this Tour has also been impressive, especially his competitiveness in the third week of racing which has proved that he may be a true contender for Grand Tours in the future. Pinot confirmed that his body coped quite well with the length of the event.
"In the third week, it's actually more hard mentally, because you're tired," he said. "It's more staying concentrated during three weeks that's not easy. It's a bit of a weakness I have, staying concentrated, but I think I've made some progress at it by experiencing this Tour."
But even though it is his first Grand Tour, Pinot was confident that he'd be competitive against some of the greatest stage race riders. Asked if he had expected to be so successful in this Tour, he replied, "Yes and no. I knew that some stages would suit me, and I've been competitive against the same guys at other races during the year so I knew I had my chances. I knew I was in good shape."
Now, Pinot hopes to bring his 10th placing to Paris, by defending it against 11th-placed Nicolas Roche (AG2R) in the time trial. The Irishman also has the goal to enter the top 10, and has a better predisposition for the race against the clock compared to Pinot. The Frenchman lost over two minutes on Roche in the Tour's first time trial, and they are currently 1:12 apart on GC.
"The objective is to remain in the top 10," Pinot however clearly stated. "I have a bit of an advantage, but I don't know of it's going to be enough. Still, I will have done the maximum of what I'm able to do, so there will be no regrets."
The particular exercise of the race against the clock is not the climber's specialty, and this may also be what could hold his dreams of a Grand Tour overall victory back in the future. Especially this Tour's last time trial to Chartres, laid out on completely flat terrain, does not enchant the Frenchman.
"The time trial is particular, as it's really flat for 55 kilometres. You have to stay in the same riding position for more than one hour, so it'll be difficult. I just hope I'll limit my losses," he said.
"It's not that I don't appreciate the discipline of the time trial, but it's an effort that I find hard to deliver. Often, your back and your bottom hurt, and I'm more afraid of that than anything else. I know I'll have the legs, but I also have to be able to hold that riding position for more than one hour, and that's not easy for me.
"It's the length of the time trial that frightens me, and the fact that there won't be a lot of opportunities to get out of the saddle. It means that my back muscles will be tense all the time."
As to the rest of the season, the climber still has two goals in mind: the Tour de l'Ain, where he was able to win two stages last year, and the Giro di Lombardia, his favourite Classic for obvious reasons.
"I hope to be competitive at the Tour de l'Ain [from August 7-11], and then I'll take some vacation. I'll just rest and eat barbecues. But I hope to be back in the mix at the Giro di Lombardia at the end of September," he said.