Eleven months after becoming the first under-23 rider to make the final top 10 of the Tour de France since 1947, Thibaut Pinot is fired up for his second attempt one week prior to lining up in Corsica for the 100th edition of the race.
“Last year, I was a little bit like a tourist at the start,” the FDJ rider told Cyclingnews on the eve of the French championship in Lannilis. “It worked out well. But my run-up this time is completely different. Except for the Pyrenees, I know all the crucial parts of the course. I’ve tried to leave nothing to chance. I’m the leader of the team.”
On Friday, he reconnoitred the individual time trial from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel (stage 11) as well as the coastal part of stage 10 alongside the English Channel before the finish at Saint-Malo, a windy area where damage can be done.
One year ago, he got a last minute start because he was on good form at the Tour de Suisse and FDJ was left without a climber as Arnold Jeannesson, who finished 15th in 2011, was injured. This time around, he was the only rider selected by Marc Madiot at the beginning of the season.
“I rode with three goals this year: the Volta Catalunya, the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse”, Pinot said. He finished 8th, 12th and 4th at those World Tour races. “We’ll learn later on if my fourth place at the Tour de Suisse was a breakthrough in my career or not. Nobody remembers fourth places. I’m a bit frustrated because I had the legs for the podium but I feel relieved at the same time. I hope I’ll go well at the Tour too. I even start to get some good feelings in time trialling, which was my weak point. We’ve raced very well as a team at the Tour de Suisse. I hope to have a few more weeks like this coming up.”
Pinot chose the Tour de Suisse over the Dauphiné but followed closely what happened in the French Alps. “Chris Froome is clearly the favourite and Richie Porte can finish second overall,” the 23-year-old said. “The three Spaniards [Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde] weren’t at 100% at the Dauphiné. Only if they race united at the Tour, Porte will be forced to pace a lot. But if they are selfish, it’ll be hard to beat Froome. At uphill finishes, to attack three kilometres from the top will useless for GC. I see the Mont Ventoux much harder than l’Alpe d’Huez but if the difference is not made before the Chalet-Reynard, nothing will happen because of the wind.”
After finishing tenth overall last year, Pinot is probably the biggest threat to defending champion Tejay van Garderen for the white jersey of best young rider. As a pure climber, he might as well target the polka dot jersey. “My initial goal is the overall classification,” he announced. “The white jersey is linked to my position on GC.”