Thibaut Pinot finished seventh in this year's Vuelta a España, three places better than his 2012 Tour de France performance and the Frenchman has claimed that Chris Horner was stronger in this year’s Vuelta than Chris Froome during last year’s Tour.
Froome finished second in last year’s Tour while Horner went onto win the Vuelta in September, becoming the oldest grand tour winner in the process.
"In terms of watts my the Vuelta was better than my Tour de France," he told Velochrono. Being at the front in both races, gave Pinot a chance to compare both Froome and Horner.
"I think Chris Horner in 2013 was better than Chris Froome in the 2012 Tour de France. I could follow Froome on multiple occasions while I could only follow Horner once, on stage 16, of the Vuelta. I think the Vuelta top four [Horner, Nibali, Valverde, Rodríguez were stronger than the top three of the 2012 Tour [Wiggins, Froome, Nibali]."
FDJ.fr had a very successful season with 33 wins. It prompted the French national lottery to extend its sponsorship of the team through 2016. Despite the record amount of wins, Pinot didn't manage a single victory in 2013.
"I did miss winning this year. The past two years I won races and this year none. I ride my bike to win but on WorldTour level you have to be prepared that you do not win. Plus the fact I am a climber. Look at Alberto Contador who only won a stage in Tour de San Luis this year. I was the closest to winning in Tour de Suisse but finished fourth. I could have done better there."
After his tenth place in the overall of the 2012 Tour de France expectations on the young Frenchman were high. In this year's Tour he could not live up to the expectations. His 2013 campaign was marred by bad luck - he got ill with a throat infection - and his apparent fear of descending prevented him from repeating his result of the previous year. Pinot left the Tour de France after the Mont Ventoux stage.
"I need a goal when I ride, when I train, in everything. The overall classification is a goal, otherwise I would finish last in all the flat stages. When I lost that goal in the Tour de France things fell flat. I already thought about the Vuelta after the stage to Ax 3 Domains [where he lost six minutes on Froome] but because it's the Tour you don't want to abandon too soon."
He worked tirelessly on his descending skills and went to the Vuelta a España, far from the high expectations of the French public. The race was a big success for FDJ.fr with stage wins for Kenny Elissonde and Alexandre Geniez, and a seventh place in the overall for Pinot.
"I had already planned to do both this year. The Tour-Vuelta is unlike the Giro-Tour. I won't go to the Giro to look at the landscape. I would go to Italy for the overall classification. For me it's hard to say no to the GC. It would be a waste of time otherwise. I said at the Tour presentation that I would do the Tour-Vuelta again but we'll have to confirm next year's programme at the team training camp coming up next."
Pinot starts his 2014 season in the Tour of Oman. "I don't want to ride the same programme every year."