It's been five years since a Frenchman last won a stage at the Giro d'Italia, Christophe Le Mével on stage 17 in Varazze in 2005, and six years since Jerome Pineau last won a race, but Pineau put an end to both dry spells today in Novi Ligure.
After Pineau claimed victory in stage 5 at the Giro d'Italia, the 30-year-old Frenchman revealed that he had to overcome depression and later moved to Quick Step to regain confidence and become a winner again.
Hailing from Nantes in the west of France, Pineau turned professional with Bonjour, the team of his region of origin, in 2002. In his first year he rode the Tour de France and finished second in stage 10 behind compatriot Patrice Halgand.
"In 2003 and 2004, I wrongly thought that cycling was easy," the Frenchman said of his past. "I even made the podium at World Cup level races (third at the 2004 Züri-Metzgete) and I was the highest ranked Frenchman on the UCI classification. But I lost my head. I went into depression in 2005. I went under therapy, after which I needed a transition year."
Pineau was known at Bouygues Telecom for his mouth to do the talking much more than his legs. When team busses remained closed and cycling champions stayed silent, reporters only had to question Pineau and they were sure to have something to write about. But it wasn't about him winning races.
"I needed to change teams," Pineau said. "I've had great directeur sportifs before but at Quick Step I've found a staff that has understood how to motivate me. Had I stayed where I was I'm not sure I would have achieved what I've done today." When he signed for the Belgian team, he made a comparison with football, the sport he's a fan of: "This is like transferring from FC Nantes to AC Milan.
"Three weeks ago I called [Quick Step coach] Luca [Guercilena] and I told him the Giro would be the right race to bring me confidence back. I had a disappointing Ardennes classics campaign," Pineau said. "I wanted to try and win a stage. In only five days, that makes two stage wins for Quick Step (Wouter Weylandt won stage 3 in Middelburg). This is my nicest victory ever. It happens in a Grand Tour. This is perfect. This is what I was missing."
The Frenchman is also aware of the historical prestige of his win. "The Giro has always been mythic for me," he said. "But winning in the village of Fausto Coppi on an Eddy Merckx bicycle adds to my pleasure. On the second hill today, I saw a banner for Coppi. I had good legs and I thought maybe this would be a good sign for me to win.
"Strangely, in the last two kilometres of this stage I found the confidence I had missed for five years," he said. "Arashiro was very strong but he lost his nerve by opening the sprint too early."
Pineau used to be the one losing his nerve but it was a different story today in Novi Ligure.