Pinot struggles in Spanish heat after early illness

Frenchman hopes for cooler days at the Vuelta a España

When Thibaut Pinot arrived at the team bus in Córdoba on Tuesday afternoon, his summation of stage 4 of the Vuelta a España was a blunt one. It had been, he told one onlooker, the worst day of his life as a cyclist.

Pinot was part of a salt-encrusted, hollow-faced group that ghosted into the one-time capital of Spain’s Islamic Caliphate almost 17 minutes down, following another day of searing heat in the deep south.

The Vuelta’s extended early sojourn in Andalusia has brought the peloton through some of the region’s most evocative terrain and beguiling towns, but has also subjected the riders to the most extreme temperatures.

For much of Tuesday’s stage, for instance, the mercury was north of 40 degrees, and Pinot is one of the riders to have suffered the most in the conditions. Never particularly happy beneath blazing sunshine at the best of times, Pinot’s travails have been exacerbated by the illness that laid him low in the days leading up to the race last week.

At the start in Mareina del Alcor on Tuesday, Pinot had ridden to sign on with an ice pack stuffed down his jersey, and then apologetically nipped back on board the team bus to replenish it before speaking to Cyclingnews.

“I had a fever for three days, from Wednesday to Saturday, so I’ve found it hard to recover and the serious heat here has weakened me even more,” Pinot said. “It’s been a very complicated start for me, and I’m looking forward to getting up north and into what will hopefully be some cooler temperatures. I don’t like the heat to begin with, and when you’ve been ill on top of that, it just makes things worse again.”

For now at least, Pinot’s struggles have not affected his stated pre-race goals. After landing a podium place at the Tour de France last month, the 24-year-old was quick to stress that he was travelling south of the Pyrenees in search of stage wins rather than attempting to better his 7th place finish in last year’s Vuelta.

“It’s true, I didn’t come here for the general classification, so in that sense it doesn’t matter if I lose an hour or two hours in the first week, it’s all the same really,” said Pinot, who is already over 24 minutes back in 177th place. “I just hope that I can get good feelings back in the days to come, and get back into the race.”

The Vuelta’s first major rendezvous is at La Zubia on Thursday afternoon, but considering his current plight, Pinot seems unlikely to be a factor on the short, sharp climb. Assuming he can recover, his sights will instead be trained on the welter of mountaintop finishes in weeks two and three.

“I don’t really know any of the climbs so it’s all a bit of a voyage into the unknown in that sense,” he said. “In any case, generally speaking, I think the climbs in Spain suit me quite well because they’re usually quite regular, quite hard and quite long, which I like. There are some very nice summit finishes in the second half of the race in particular.”

After his showing at the Tour, it would be understandable if Pinot had considered winding down his season at that early juncture. Instead, after a week’s holiday in Saint-Tropez and a limited diet of criteriums, he set about preparing for the Vuelta.

The strong home showing at the Tour was the soap opera of the summer in France, with Pinot the leading light in the eyes of the public. He has been a man in demand since mounting the podium in Paris a month ago, but, south of the Pyrenees, he has found some refuge from the demands of stardom – and therein, perhaps, lies a good deal of the Vuelta’s attraction.

“It’s very different to the Tour alright,” Pinot said. “It’s a lot calmer, there’s less pressure and attention, and I quite like that. It was a bit complicated between the Tour and the Vuelta, as I had a lot of requests but I think I managed it pretty well. And now at the Vuelta everything is a lot more tranquil.”

Everything, that is, except for the temperature.

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