Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) often seems to be racing against himself, against his demons and against his own weaknesses and tactical errors. But his victory at Il Lombardia and the way he won the final Monument of the season swept away all Pinot’s doubts, rewarding his panache, aggression and desire to win.
“I have a tattoo that says 'Solo la vittoria e’ bella', and this is the most beautiful victory for me,” Pinot explained as he tried to understand what he had achieved by winning Il Lombardia.
“Il Lombardia is the most beautiful race of all for me. It’s a magnifique race. I think Il Lombardia reflects who I am as rider. It’s my favourite race, and to win it alone after a duel with [Vincenzo] Nibali is incredible. I think it was good to watch as it was to ride.
“I showed what I can do today. We have live in the moment, and I believe that everything that has happened so far in my life has lead me to win Il Lombardia.”
Pinot knew it was the right moment to attack when he saw Nibali go after Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) on the final slopes of the Colma di Sormano. There were still almost 50km left to race, but he followed his instinct.
“I wanted to do something on the Sormano, and when Nibali attacked I said, ‘Bingo!’ I knew it was a good attack,” Pinot explained.
“Then Rogic and [Egan] Bernal joined us too, and it was even better. When the gap was up to 45 seconds, I knew it was the right move and that it would be hard for Valverde to get back up to us.”
After dispatching Roglic and Bernal and staying clear of the other chasers, Pinot knew he had to distance Nibali to ensure victory.
“My goal was to be alone at the top of the Civiglio. I didn’t want to face another duel against Nibali on that downhill. He could have hurt me there,” he recalled.
“On the Civiglio Nibali looked at me and rode alongside me, but I suspected he was bluffing. I was right. When I attacked, he suffered, so I gave it another go and got away. I told myself that my finish line was the top of the Civiglio. I was scared to be attacked and so I attacked and then was able to do the descent as I wanted. I think I rode it well, and after that it was a flat out ride to the finish.”
Pinot follows Charly Mottet (1988), Gilles Delion (1990) and Laurent Jalabert (1997) among the recent French winners of Il Lombardia. Pinot is a Grand Tour rider and has won stages at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, but his aggression makes him much more.
“I’m a stage race rider, but this is like a stage race. I’ve raced hard from the Giro dell’Emilia until Il Lombardia and consider this Italian week as the best moment of the year. It’s clear I’m in the best form of my life, so winning Milano-Torino and then Il Lombardia have made it a special week. I’ve loved every minute.
“Winning a Monument like Il Lombardia and winning a Grand Tour are, of course, very different. I’ve shown I can win a Classic now and I’ll be back at the Tour de France next year to do as well as I can. Who knows what that can be. I’m on holiday now and perhaps I could have raced on, but it’s also nice to end on a high.”