Seated in the pilot’s seat of the FDJ team bus and resting up after stage 2 of the Vuelta al País Vasco, Thibaut Pinot expressed a mixture of satisfaction and relief at how he had managed to get through what was - for him - the toughest single finish of this race.
Sixth at the summit finish means the Criterium International winner is very much still in the overall classification battle, although he has said pre-race that a top-five finish on GC would be a good result for the Frenchman.
“I was in the first ten at the foot of the climb and with such a tricky start that was very important,” Pinot told a small group of reporters. “After that I followed the favourites' wheels because I needed to catch my breath a little after making sure I was in the right place and then there was a really difficult first ramp.
“There was a lot of the favourites watching each other, it had been a very difficult start to the stage.” In his case, too, there had been some mechanical problems early on that saw him stuck in a third peloton, only managing to regroup after a hectic chase.
Pinot agreed that Tuesday’s finale had its similarities with the Mur de Huy and the finale of Fleche Wallonne, with the ultra-fast near-sprint to the foot of the final climb and then in the last 500 metres.
“It was a case of everybody finishing as they could. There weren’t too many climbs earlier on so it was really a case of who had the most ‘punch’ for that last ascent.”
In Pinot’s case, having got through such a tricky finish, the next step will be to see what he can achieve on the race’s remaining hilly terrain.