With only one previous race this season, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) says form-wise this year's Volta a Catalunya represents something of a voyage in the dark. But as he points out, he is not putting himself under any pressure for a top result - yet.
Pinot's big goals this season will come, just like in 2017, in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. But with the aim of being at peak form in the summer, and also avoiding the exhaustion and illness that put paid to his chances in the Tour de France last year, this time round the Frenchman is taking the first part of the season much more easily.
"I don't have too many reference points yet," Pinot told Cyclingnews at the start of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday. "I'm a way off my top form, because last year I was aiming for success in Tirreno-Adriatico, where I got third overall."
That said, Pinot has already finished an encouraging fifth overall in his first race of the season, the Tour du Haut Var in February.
Catalunya, though, is a much tougher event altogether than the French two-day early season race, and, "This time I'm not going so hard in the first part of the year like in 2017, although I'm aiming to get stronger day by day."
One key reference point for Pinot will come on Wednesday's Valter 2000 climb, where back in 2013, he finished fifth behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar), as well as taking 15th in 2014 behind Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). "I remember it was very cold in 2013, there was a headwind on the climb and a lot of wind," Pinot told Cyclingnews. "There's 4,000 metres of [vertical] climbing on that stage, too, it's a very hard final ascent: for me, it's the first big test of the season."
After the Volta a Catalunya, come what may in the mountains, Pinot will ease back a little prior to the final run-in to the Giro d'Italia, which will be preceded by an altitude camp at Mount Etna then the Tour of the Alps, where he finished second overall last year.
Fourth and a stage winner in Italy last year, "The aim in the 2018 Giro d’Italia," he told Cyclingnews, "is to do even better than last May, and that means, this time, to get on the podium as well as a stage win. It's certainly a very different route to last year, us riders tend to prefer to have a Grand Depart either in the main country where the race is held of nearby at most. But that’s the way modern cycling has developed these days."
Pinot has yet to decide, too, how he will tackle the Tour de France. “It all depends on how I come out of the Giro. I’ll do another training camp, probably in the Alps and then we’ll reach a decision if my form is good enough to go for the GC or simply to focus on stages."
As for the here and now in Catalunya, Pinot will likely try to help out his teammate David Gaudu, Groupama-FDJ’s protected rider in the Catalan race, as best he can: his own chance to shine will come in a few weeks time.