Thibaut Pinot's 2018 season might look similar to the previous one with the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France again, but the build-up will be radically different. When we designed his race program, our main concern was to arrive fresh at the Tour de France, as we have noted how some riders, like Rigoberto Uran and Warren Barguil, have performed well in July with little racing beforehand, although their schedules had been hampered involuntarily by injuries. However, out of all categories of cyclists – sprinters, climbers or rouleurs – our leaders like Pinot and Arnaud Démare started the 2017 Tour de France with ten more racing days than their competitors.
The main idea, therefore, was to reduce Pinot's number of race days before the Tour from 45 in 2017 to 35 this year, and this how we'll come down to it: he'll ride the Tour du Haut-Var (17-18 February), Volta Catalunya (19-25 March) and Tour of the Alps (16-20 April) before the Giro, and then nothing between the Giro and the Tour.
Last year's mistake was for him to defend his national time trial title. This year, he won't take part in either the time trial or the road race in June. Due to the football World Cup, there are eight more days between the Giro and the Tour this year, but skipping the French Nationals will give Thibaut an extra two weeks to recover compared to last year.
We've also listened to his wishes. The Tour de France is starting with a team time trial, which is not necessarily a big problem for our team anymore, with potential echelons and with the cobbled stage on the roads of Paris-Roubaix, where anything can happen, positively or negatively. For this reason, he didn't want to bank everything on only one Grand Tour when there is the risk of losing it all even before reaching the mountains.
Since Thibaut loves Italy and the Giro, it was a natural choice. We agreed on that, but on the proviso that his early season calendar would be different and much lighter, and also bearing in mind that the course of the World Championships suits the climbers this year. It means not riding Tirreno-Adriatico, where he did so well last year, finishing 3rd, and the Strade Bianche, where he placed 9th.
Our Giro d'Italia team will be built 100% around Thibaut. However, with a different preparation to last year and with the start in Israel, we're a bit in the unknown. We want to do well at the Giro and the Tour, but without setting any clear goal. We're keeping that for the World Championship – where the objective is the win, of course.
I found Thibaut very relaxed as we launched our 2018 season with our new title sponsor Groupama, along with our historical sponsor FDJ, who has been backing us since 1997. This addition to our existing partners is a big boost for our team, in every aspect. It gives us a 30% budget increase, and we'll create a development team next year. They also have commercial interests in Italy, but that has never been part of the discussions on whether Pinot would ride the Giro or not. They're very enthusiastic and motivated people. It's stimulating and it makes us hope for a great season.
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