Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was in search of some reassurance on this Giro d'Italia after a jour sans in the Montefalco time trial, and the response from the Apennines was a comforting one. The Frenchman's stinging attack on the final ascent of stage 11 ultimately came to nothing, but it was valuable in its own way, as an exercise in restoring confidence.
After Vincenzo Nibali's probing acceleration reduced the maglia rosa group almost to its bare bones, Pinot decided to follow up with a searing attack of his own on the Monte Fumaiolo, and his effort proved more punishing than the Sicilian's. Pinot pounded his way clear to open a small gap ahead of the summit, though he eventually desisted when faced with a block headwind over the other side.
"With three of four riders, something might have been possible, but with an unfavourable wind, not many people wanted to move, so I sat up over the top," Pinot explained afterwards.
Pinot was content to roll into Bagno di Romagna in 18th place on the stage, 1:37 down on winner Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), but safely alongside Nibali, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and overall leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). He remains fourth on general classification, 2:40 behind Dumoulin.
It was notable earlier on Monte Fumaiolo that a contingent from Pinot's FDJ came to the front of the pink jersey group and ratcheted up the pace. They were loath to allow the break to gain too much ground, particularly when Andrey Amador (Movistar) was among their number. The Costa Rican moved up to 6th overall, 3:05 behind Dumoulin, and could yet prove a most useful foil for his leader Quintana.
"The goal wasn't to ride, but Astana and Movistar had riders up ahead and weren't obliged to ride, and we didn't want the break to gain five minutes, so we limited the damage," Pinot said. "In the end, it was a good day. I had better sensations than yesterday, so I'm happy. It wasn't just Amador, there were a lot of riders in that group, and it was a pity to give them all that much time. We're not there to hand out gifts either."
Although Pinot's gained rather more purchase on his uphill acceleration than Nibali, he reckoned afterwards that the Sicilian had desisted from his effort for roughly similar reasons. "He tried to attack but I think he didn't insist because he wasn't able to drop us, and then people didn't want to come with him," Pinot said.
Third overall at the 2014 Tour de France, Pinot struggled in each of the following two editions and has often cited the searing heat of a French July as a partial explanation for his travails at La Grande Boucle. One of the attractions of riding the Giro, beyond Pinot's longstanding predilection, like his forebear Stendhal, for all things Italian, was the promise of cooler temperatures. With temperatures of 27 degrees for much of the afternoon, the weather felt rather like summer in the Apennines on Wednesday but caused Pinot no additional hardship.
"No, I felt good, despite the heat, and that was reassuring," he said. "It doesn't frighten me. I have a team and staff who help me all the way, a lot of water bottles and feeds, so that saves a lot of energy, and makes it more bearable."
Heat is unlikely to be a factor when the Giro returns to the mountains at Oropa on Saturday afternoon, and, on the evidence of the Blockhaus and Monte Fumaiolo, Pinot ought to be to the fore once again. Montefalco, it seems, was but a temporary roadblock.
"There are two days now to recover now, and then there's the rendezvous Saturday at Oropa," Pinot said. "I haven't raised my arms here yet. I want to win a stage on the Giro."
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