For Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), having made a comeback from early-season illness, the Tour of the Basque Country is an important stepping stone in his racing program towards the Tour de France.
Pinot was tenth overall in the 2012 Tour de France and won a memorable stage to Porrentruy but was forced to abandon last year's race with a throat infection after suffering in the mountains. The 23-year-old Frenchman also suffered at the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico but pulled things around at the recent Volta a Catalunya. He is now getting back to his best and looking for a good performance in the Basque country as the race heads into the decisive hilly stages.
"I feel good, I want to ride. I hope to ramp it up to the Tour de Romandie and then cut back and prepare for the Tour de France serenely," Pinot said having adjusted his focus from a stage win to GC for the week," he said.
"I've changed my mind. To win a stage at this level is great reading [of my form]," Pinot said of the race which contains several big Tour de France contenders.
Pinot was 13th overall at the Tour of Cataluyna which has given him confidence and greater support from his team.
"Throughout the week, I felt better. I am pleased that I was attacking in the last stage and I ended up in Barcelona with good moral. Arnold Jeannesson, who is a great teammate, is my number one lieutenant. Always present which is important for me. Alexander Géniez was tired in the Tour of Catalonia but he made a good start."
Having enjoyed a small break between the two Spanish WorldTour races, Pinot explained that he was feeling the effects a long racing block.
"I had four days off before two good days of endurance and intensity. For me, Catalonia was still super important to, 'It was make or break,' and I finished very tired but it was a really big week to get back to my level after not finishing Tirreno-Adriatico and my efforts at the Tour of Oman. Now it is important for me to avoid health problems which I cannot control."
With a sensitive throat, Pinot underwent a scan which revealed that there was not enough angina to justify removing his tonsils and explained it is an issue that he will continues to monitor, especially close to the Tour de France.