Pinot to target Tour de France in 2019 and likes the route

Frenchman knows the Planche des Belles Filles stage 'by heart'

Thibaut Pinot is set to make the Tour de France his number one priority next year, and the Frenchman has reacted positively to the route for the 2019 edition, which was unveiled in Paris on Thursday. 

Pinot finished third at the Tour in 2014 but struggled in the subsequent two editions and for the past two seasons he has made the Giro d'Italia his target Grand Tour. In 2017 he rode the Tour but without a GC focus, while this year he was absent entirely in order to fully recover from pneumonia that knocked him out of the Giro on the penultimate day

After a late-season spree that has seen him win two stages at the Vuelta a España, along with a first Monument victory at Il Lombardia, Pinot is more confident than ever. Despite Il Lombardia and the other autumn classics reaffirming his love for Italy, he is ready to target the Tour de France once again. 

"Thibaut won't do the Giro - that's for sure," said Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot at the Tour route presentation, according to L'Equipe. "He will only do the Tour."

There was plenty to whet Pinot's appetite in a route that heavily favours the climbers over the rouleurs.

There are just 55 kilometres against the clock, while there three big mountain stages apiece in the Pyrenees and Alps, with numerous cols above the 2000-metre mark. And then there's the first of the five summit finishes, at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6, which is something of a home climb for Pinot, who lives on the edge of the Vosges range. 

"I was pleasantly surprised," Pinot said of the route. "There are lots of stages in the east of France. For me, it's a nice route. There are a lot of mountains, and a lot of high altitudes as well. The mountains come quickly, too. After five days we'll be in the Vosges - that changes things a little and that's a good thing. 

"There will be a nice mountain stage with the Grand Ballon, le Ballon d'Alsace, and then the Chevrères climb ahead of La Planche des Belles Filles. These are climbs that I do every week. It's a true mountain stage and one of the best of the Tour for me. I know the climbs by heart and I'm eager to be there, that's for sure."

Pinot has seemed liberated on the roads of Italy in the past couple of seasons, after the pressure and expectation seemed to affect him in the wake of his 2014 podium, with the French public eager for a first home winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. He has also taken delight in winning stages in all three Grand Tours, so when it comes to the things he's not looking forward to about the 2019 Tour, it's the stress. 

"As usual, you have to be wary of the opening stages in Belgium, above all the first stage with the climb of the Mur de Geraardsbergen, where everyone will be nervous and where the stage could become risky," he said. 

"I'm not scared of the team time trial on the second day, but I can fear the stage in Nîmes at the start of the final week, because I know that the wind could be an important factor. You have to be absolutely alert before getting going in the Alps."

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