France's hopes that Thibaut Pinot could up his GC game after last year's near-miss at the Tour de France were dealt a definitive, shattering blow on stage 8 on Saturday when the Groupama-FDJ leader lost over 25 minutes in a single high-mountain stage.
Pinot put the blame for his colossal defeat squarely on his back injury, caused by his big crash on stage 1 in Nice last weekend, when he came down in the final three kilometres.
Although he came through the first week without further injury, there were reports that he required up to three hours of treatment a day for his back. And the moment of truth arrived in the Tour when the Frenchman came badly unstuck on Saturday on the Porte de Balès – the race's first hors-catégorie climb – where he could be seen repeatedly stretching and grimacing in pain.
Despite being surrounded by his teammates, Pinot was unable to limit the damage, and he slid remorselessly backwards away from the GC favourites and out of this year's Tour GC game.
"I had so much back pain, I couldn't pedal," Pinot told French television at the finish. "The Tour is not over – I never thought about quitting – but it's been a very complicated year.
"I want to apologise to my teammates and to those who support me; there have been a lot of setbacks. Maybe this is a turning point in my career," he added. "I always said what I enjoyed was fighting for races. This was too much for me."
Pinot insisted that his options at the Tour were not over, although they would now centre on stage wins.
"The team is very strong, and I'm crossing my fingers we can get one," he concluded.
Pinot's initial success at the Tour came in 2012, when he took a stage win in the Jura, but it has been followed by a massive Grand Tour rollercoaster, with an abandon at the 2013 Tour.
A third place overall then followed in 2014, and he then took a win on Alpe d'Huez in 2015 – after having lost 10 minutes to overall winner Chris Froome on the first major summit finish.
After finishing fourth at the Giro d'Italia in 2017, Pinot then abandoned the Tour later that year. He then quit the Giro – again ill – when on the point of taking a podium finish in 2018. Two stage wins followed at the Vuelta a España that September, but in 2019, hopes of an outright victory in the Tour, after a superb ride in the Pyrenees, collapsed in the Alps, where he had to abandon due to a thigh injury.
It remains to be seen what Pinot can achieve in the remainder of this year's Tour, but any hopes of finally cracking the GC in his home race have now had to be shelved for another season.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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