Born and raised in the shadow of La Planche des Belles Filles, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) has tackled the climb hundreds of times in training over the years, but never with the same kind of intensity as during stage 7 of the Tour de France.
A natural climber who packs an explosive punch, Pinot is in theory ideally suited to a climb such as La Planche des Belles Filles, but such was the ferocity of Sky’s pace-making on the front end of the peloton that it proved impossible for anyone to attack.
“It was very, very quick yesterday,” Pinot told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 8 in Belfort. “We arrived at the foot of the climb at an incredible pace, and then Sky were very impressive on the climb and nobody was able to attack. Their rhythm was very impressive.”
As the men in black scarcely missed a beat out in front, overall contender after overall contender was jettisoned unceremoniously off the back of the dwindling leading group. While Pinot lost contact with that particular locomotive halfway up the climb, he recovered well as the summit approached, and picked his way through the carnage to finish in an encouraging 15th place.
“It’s true that at the start I suffered a bit with the speed, but it’s my mountain, so I knew that there were places where I could recover further up,” he said, pointing out that he had suffered more on the flat approach to the climb than he had on the mountain itself. “The approach to La Planche put a lot of people in the red before the climb began and that made things very hard.”
Pinot crossed the line alongside Sky’s Michael Rogers and just ahead of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in 15th place, 1:24 down on stage winner Chris Froome. Although he had aspirations of finishing a little closer to the leaders, the peculiar nature of the stage meant that he came away satisfied with his showing.
“Yeah, I’m happy,” he said. “I would have liked to have done at least a top 10. That wasn’t the case, but a top 15 isn’t so bad.”
At 22 years of age, Pinot is the youngest rider in this year’s Tour, and also arguably the stand-out promise among the new wave of French talents beginning to make an impact at the highest level. Currently fourth in the young rider rankings, Pinot admitted that it will prove difficult to overhaul Rein Taaramae: “It’s going to be hard, but you never know. I’m giving a bit of thought to it, but not too much.”
Over the final 50 kilometres of the stage, the roadsides were dotted with banners of support for the régional de l’étape Pinot. His hometown of Mélisey – where his father is mayor – was naturally the centre of festivities on Saturday afternoon, where one large banner bore the legend: “Thibaut – à toi les Belles Filles.”
Although Pinot didn’t quite come away with the kisses of the podium hostesses, he enjoyed his day racing on home roads. “Of course it was a great day for me yesterday,” he said. “There were a lot of people who had come out specifically to cheer me on and a lot of banners out there on the roadside. It was super.”
Pinot began Sunday’s testing stage to Porrentruy in 28th place overall, but with aspirations of moving up the standings as the race enters his favoured terrain in earnest. “I’m still going day by day. Today is a quite a testing stage too, and it’s only after tomorrow evening [the Besançon time trial – ed.] that we’ll take stock of things properly,” he said.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.