Pinot aims to recapture winning feeling at Circuit de la Sarthe

BELLANTE ITALY MARCH 10 Thibaut Pinot of France and Team Groupama FDJ at Marmore Falls prior to the 57th TirrenoAdriatico 2022 Stage 4 a 202km stage from Cascata delle Marmore to Bellante 345m TirrenoAdriatico WorldTour on March 10 2022 in Bellante Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) in action at Tirreno-Adriatico (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

The Circuit de la Sarthe welcomed a number of the biggest names in the peloton, on its return after a two-year absence, including Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Mads Pedersen, Filippo Ganna and Elia Viviani. 

Groupama-FDJ climber Thibaut Pinot was also among the big names receiving a warm welcome in Mamers, with the Frenchman making his debut at the race this year.

Pinot's last appearance in the north-west of France, a hotbed of French cycling, was at the start of the 2016 Tour de France in Normandy. The Circuit de la Sarthe will help him progress onto his next goals of the spring.

"I'm here because it's a nice race and it enables be to gear up for what's next in the season", Pinot told Cyclingnews prior to the start of stage 1.

"I haven't raced since mid-March at Tirreno-Adriatico, so Circuit de la Sarthe is well positioned on the calendar. I can nicely get back into the rhythm of the competition with four days of racing. I need some racing in my legs.

"Having a number on my back, the goal is to win races, whether it's for the team or for myself", he continued.

"We have options to sprint for victory with Paul [Penhoët] or Bram [Welten]. I'll be happy to help them. If I can be in the mix on several stages, I'll go for it. My goal is to arrive at 100 per cent at the start of the Tour de France, I'm also here to up my level after I finished Tirreno-Adriatico in good shape."

After a setback in mid-February following his third COVID-19 vaccination that resulted in a spell of fatigue, Pinot finished eighth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and was encouraged after a long spell out due to back problems and a gradual return to racing.

"Tirreno-Adriatico was almost the beginning of the revival", he said. 

"I hadn't had this kind of great feelings in the climbs since the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné [where he finished second to Dani Martínez – Ed].

"It was a good sign. It felt good to be able to push like before. I'm quite optimistic for the rest of the season. Tour of the Alps and Tour de Romandie are clear goals for me. There are two of the most beautiful races in my mind."

31-year-old Pinot has won the former back in 2018, while at Romandie he has two stages to his name plus the youth classification, though he hasn't started the Swiss race since 2016.

"My morale is good, as I found myself again", he added. "Now I want to win a race in the mountains, whatever the category of the race is."

The last win on Pinot's palmarès came at stage 14 of the 2019 Tour de France up the Col du Tourmalet. He's been struggling with health and physical problems since. He's set to return to the Tour de France as co-leader alongside David Gaudu this year after he missed out in 2021.

"But I don't have the same pressure as before", he pointed out. 

"My status in the Groupama-FDJ team has changed. I'm not the sole leader anymore. There's David Gaudu as well.

"Most of the pressure is the one I put on myself. I want to do well at Tour of the Alps and Tour de Romandie in order to prepare for the Tour de France with serenity."

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