Thibaut Pinot finished a battling 9th in his Strade Bianche debut on Saturday and the FDJ rider offered a ringing endorsement of the Tuscan race on crossing the finish line in Siena’s Piazza del Campo.
"Together with the Tour of Lombardy, this is the race I love the most, and it doesn't matter that there are riders better suited to it than me fighting for the win," Pinot told Gazzetta dello Sport. "This has everything to be considered a big Classic."
Pinot finished the race 2:23 down on winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), but described himself pleased to have been "maybe the first non-Classics man" on the results sheet in Siena.
There is a decidedly Italian feel to Pinot's calendar this season as he fulfils a longstanding ambition by making his first appearance at the Giro d'Italia. In preparation for the corsa rosa, Pinot will line out at Tirreno-Adriatico this week and at the Tour of the Alps – formerly the Giro del Trentino – in April.
On Saturday, Pinot was a surprising presence in the morning break, but he felt the decision to go on the offensive early was vindicated by his eventual finishing position. When crosswinds and a crash splintered the peloton into shards around the midway point, Pinot was safely five minutes up the road. Despite his early efforts, he then had enough in reserve to ride to 9th place when the selection of favourites caught the early break.
"It was the right tactic. I knew that it would be very nervy in the bunch and that if I waited until the finale, the Classics riders would have more of a chance than me. That's why I looked to anticipate, and I'm happy," Pinot said. "I enjoyed myself. It was a great result for my first participation. I'm just sorry I'm discovering it now, but I'll be back, you can be sure of that."
Although the Tour de France has been the centrepiece of Pinot’s past five seasons, he has never made any secret of his affection for racing on Italian roads. As an amateur, he won the prestigious Giro della Valle d'Aosta in 2009, he claimed the overall title at the Settimana Lombarda in his second year as a professional in 2011, and he placed third at the Tour of Lombardy in 2015.