Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) appeared genuinely surprised that he had taken the leader’s jersey at the Tour of the Alps at the end of stage 2, first riding away from the finish area in the village of Innervillgraten, only return to the podium after his brother rode after him and turned him around.
After carefully getting changed and wrapping up to avoid the impact of the near zero temperatures, Pinot climbed onto the podium with a smile and was bemused to receive a tray of Melinda apples for his efforts. He pulled on the cyclamen-coloured leader’s jersey and opened the spumante with gusto, happy to be in charge and showing his ability in Italy, just 18 days out from the start of the Giro d’Italia.
"I honestly didn’t expect to be in the leader’s jersey today. I wanted to do as well as I could on the stage and knew it kicked up. My legs felt good and so I went for the time bonuses, but I didn’t think I'd take the lead. I thought Scarponi would do enough to keep it," he explained after the podium ceremony.
However, Scarponi had little to joke about today, 24 hours after winning the opening stage in Innsbruck. He finished 29th after struggling to find a way through to the front during the fast and selective uphill finish. The Astana rider finished in the same time as Pinot but placings and time bonuses proved to be decisive. Pinot has a third and a second place to his credit, giving him the lead, ahead of Scarponi, by four seconds. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is third overall at 10 seconds. Stage winner Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) is seventh, at 11 seconds, after losing that precious slice of time on stage 1.
Pinot now faces three terrible mountain stages in expected conditions of snow and sub-zero temperatures on the climbs. But he promised to defend the jersey.
"Bien sur – of course," he said. "All the guys in the team are motivated and up for the job. We’ll try to keep it as long as possible. We didn’t think to get today but we’re happy to do so.
"Were facing some big stages, with some big climbs but I think it’s possible to defend it. The weather lead to a cut in the stage and so we’ll see what route we race to Funes. For sure there’s another uphill finish. Then there’s also the big final stage over Monte Bondone. We’re only at the start of the real race."
Pinot has been training in the warmth of Gran Canaria, and like many in the peloton he was surprised by the sudden cold snap that has struck Austria and northern Italy. He praised the race organiser for agreeing to cut the opening 40km of racing to avoid the snow-covered Brennero Pass.
"I’m here to prepare for the Giro d’Italia, which is my big goal of the season, so we’ve got to be careful and stay healthy. It was a wise decision. After the new start we enjoyed dry roads and sunny skies," he explained.
"I think my condition is good. I’ve not raced since Tirreno-Adriatico and so I was missing a bit of racing rhythm, but it’s coming back and so I’m confident of being better by end of this week and for the Giro d’Italia."
Pinot has opted to target the Giro d’Italia this year, prioritising it much more than the Tour de France. He confirmed that he likes the more unpredictable nature of Italian racing, where he can follow his instinct far more and benefit from his aggressive style.
His FDJ team published photos of Pinot wearing leader’s jersey when he was far younger at the Settimana Lombarda in 2011 and even at the Giro della Valle d’Aosta back in 2009.
"I’ve always liked racing in Italy and often got good results. This year I’m going to try to win my first ever Grand Tour in Italy and so it seemed naturally to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and even the Tour of the Alps," he explained.