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Pinot describes the stress of his parents' coronavirus diagnosis

Tour Cycliste International du Var et des Alpes Maritimes 2020 - 52nd Edition - 3rd stage La Londe - Le Mont Faron 136 km - 23/02/2020 - Thibaut Pinot (FRA - Groupama - FDJ) - photo Regis Garnier/BettiniPhoto©2020
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Thibaut Pinot has expressed relief that a date has been fixed for the postponed Tour de France, though in a long interview with French newspaper L'Equipe, he outlined the complexity of attempting to hold the race during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pinot has seen the effects of the COVID-19 virus close up. His parents were both diagnosed with COVID-19 almost three weeks ago, and he has witnessed the high level of contagion of the coronavirus in his native Mélisey, near the Vosges.

“My parents were affected both at the same time, and they are both still ill more than 20 days after contracting the virus, so the virus is hard,” Pinot told L'Equipe. 

“I have two neighbours near the house who were affected too. A quarter of a village of 2,000 inhabitants has been ill, so when you go out to do your shopping, you cross your fingers that you don’t fall ill yourself.”

Pinot’s father, the mayor of Mélisey, fell ill days after being re-elected to the post in late March, while his mother, a nurse, was diagnosed with COVID-19 four days later. His father was hospitalised for treatment last week but has since been released.

“When my father was rushed to hospital after being ill for more than 20 days, it was hard. Even with the lockdown, I lived the stress of my parents’ health,” said Pinot, who lives nearby.

“I tried to see them every day through the window. For three weeks, I brought them bread and the newspaper, because they needed to keep some contact. I got their news through the window of their house. At the worst of the illness, in the morning, I was always afraid that there had been bad news in the night, I was stressed when I went to their house. I waited in front of the window and when I saw them appear, I was reassured.”

Tour de France

With all public gatherings prohibited in France until at least the middle of July, ASO was compelled to confirm the postponement of the Tour de France last week, though the organiser moved quickly to reschedule the event for August 29-September 20. Paris-Nice was the last major event to take place and all racing is suspended until at least July.

With French riders unable to train outdoors due to the lockdown in the country, Pinot had initially been concerned about the prospect of riding the Tour in July. The two-month delay, he says, means that the lockdown shouldn’t unduly affect his preparation, provided it ends as planned on May 11.

“It’s a relief given the lockdown. The further away the Tour is, the better it will be for us. It relieves a certain pressure,” said Pinot, who envisaged staying in France to ride the Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of La Grande Boucle.

He acknowledged that collective training camps would effectively be ruled out by social distancing protocols, while travel restrictions mean he is unlikely to arrange an altitude camp ahead of a possible Tour.

“Altitude hasn’t convinced me yet. I think that I’m going to follow a build-up similar to the 2018 Vuelta. I’m going to set out based on that model,” said Pinot. 

“After the Giro, where I finished up in hospital, I spent more than three weeks off the bike. I started again and I rode the Tour de Pologne at the end of July, where I finished third and I had only trained in the Vosges. Then came the Vuelta, where I won two stages, so it’s a plan that worked quite well for me.”

It remains to be seen, however, if any social distancing plan can adequately ensure the safety of the riders, caravan and public on a September Tour de France.

“There will certainly be masks for everybody, apart from us on the bike, but for all the staff and followers on the Tour. We’ll maybe all be tested before the race to know if we have the virus. There will be rules put in place, and that’s normal. But to guarantee it 100 percent is complicated. Look at the Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, with 1,000 positive cases out of 2,000…” Pinot said.

“If a rider is ill, there will be many more, because in a peloton, you breathe heavily, you end up with a lot of phlegm on your face, a lot of riders are coughing… so if one is affected, the spread of the virus will be very quick. That could be worrying, though at the UAE Tour, they came out of it quite well, and there weren’t too many ill people.”

Like Nans Peters and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Pinot also noted that anti-doping efforts have effectively ground to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic, pointing out that he hasn’t been subjected to an out-of-competition control since October.

“That’s a long time ago and I hope that it will start up again because it’s not good news for riders who are trying to do things well. I hope that there will soon be controls again so that we can start up properly.”