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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
FDJ talent hopes to impress in Vosges in 2012
French cycling has enjoyed something of a renaissance on the international stage in 2011 and young talent Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) believes that renewal has come about thanks largely to a change in the mindset of the nation’s riders.
After concerted efforts were made to tighten anti-doping measures in France in the wake of the Festina Affair in 1998, there was long a sense that French riders were left behind in a peloton that often appeared to travel à deux vitesses. However, Pinot is hopeful that the situation has changed in recent years.
“It’s a question of a new generation of riders, but above all, it’s also the case that we don’t have a complex against the best in the world anymore,” Pinot told Cyclingnews. “Before there was the question of doping, but now I hope that we don’t have any more excuses.”
While Thomas Voeckler’s exploits in yellow at the Tour de France constituted the marquee performance of the French resurgence, the blossoming generation of riders still in development is perhaps the greatest cause for cheer. Pinot was one of a number of younger professionals to impress at a high-level in 2011, while France also took both the junior and espoirs rainbow jerseys at the word championships in Copenhagen.
“It’s clear from the world championships that there is a renewal of French cycling taking place,” Pinot said. “Voeckler is the leader of French cycling at the moment, but there are young riders coming up behind him and as they have shown on some of the biggest races, they’re not lacking in ambition.”
Though just 21 years of age, the precocious Pinot enjoyed a fine second season in the professional ranks in 2011. A stand-out performance came at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he beat a select group including Robert Gesink, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Cadel Evans to finish second at La Toussuire.
“I’m happy that I did a good season,” Pinot said modestly. “I finished up with six victories, and I hope that next year I can confirm that with some more wins.”
Pinot also enjoyed success on the other side of the Alps, dominating the opening stage of the Settimana Lombarda and going to win the race overall. He admitted that he has a particular penchant for racing on Italian roads.
“I think they’re races that suit me well,” he explained. “They’re clear and linear, and the best riders fight it out at the end.”
In 2012, however, Pinot will be happy to put in a big performance somewhat closer to home. “I hope to ride the Tour de France next year, especially as it’s passing pretty close to where I’m from,” he said.
Indeed, stage 8 to Planche des Belles Filles passes through his native Mélisey en route to the foot of the final climb. Pinot will not be lacking support in the Vosges on the biggest stage of all next July.