Pinot excited to be back as part of three-pronged bid at Tour de France podium

NATURNS ITALY APRIL 21 Thibaut Pinot of France and Team Groupama FDJ during the 44th Tour of the Alps 2021 Stage 3 a 162km stage from Imst to NaturnsNaturno TourofTheAlps TouroftheAlps on April 21 2021 in Naturns Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Fresh from his training camp in Gran Canaria, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is raring to start his 2022 campaign after putting behind his “worst season ever.” Unlike previous seasons, Pinot will not be the sole leader as David Gaudu and new signing Michael Storer will also be leading the charge for a podium place, and the rider from Franche-Comté is content with this set-up.

After spending most of 2021 at home nursing a back injury sustained in the 2020 Tour de France and seeking solace and comfort with his animals - cows, sheep, goats and chickens - the 31-year-old is keen to build on the green shoots of optimism observed at the Tour of Luxembourg and the Coppa Bernocchi near the end of 2021. Pinot looks forward to experiencing the atmosphere of the Tour de France that he so missed.

Speaking at the online team launch, Pinot said, “2022 is an important year for me, given that last season was very difficult. Fortunately, I was able to race in August and September and I felt good, even if I was really tired at the end of the season. But I am approaching the season with a lot of motivation. My legs felt good at Gran Canaria, and now I am leaving for another camp in Tenerife so that I can be on track to be operational from February.

"My objective for this year is to arrive at the Tour de France 100 per cent fit. I have won stages of the Tour in the past, so I want to rediscover those feelings and the joy of a victory on the Tour de France. I miss that atmosphere, and to win again in those legendary locations, as I have done in the past, is something that I really want to do this year.”

Whereas in previous years Groupama-FDJ have had one main leader, this year the French outfit is opting for a three-pronged attack to reach the podium, featuring Pinot, Gaudu, and 2021 Vuelta King of the Mountains, Storer. 

Some teams may find it problematic to have more than one potential leader, but Pinot is happy with this approach and sees it as a positive thing. 

“Storer is a really good option for us. He’s one of the best recruits we have made in the last few years, and I can’t wait to race with him. I think that in the mountains with him and David we could form a really good trio. I don’t think it’s going to create any tension – I’m quite sure of that. Firstly, we are a well-bonded team, and we can work collectively so the role of leader is shared. I think it’s a good thing, for me personally, as there is less pressure on the one person; of course that doesn’t mean that we would do any less work in our role.”

This approach is part of the new vision by General Manager, Marc Madiot in which he embraces a strong team spirit, and collective, rather than individual objectives. Their goal for the Tour de France is to gain a podium place through team work.

“When the entirety of the team – around one hundred of us – got together in November at our training camp in Calpe, and analysed our 2021 season we realised that we didn’t do as well as we could have because of the lack of break between 2020 and 2021, due to Covid. We have managed to have a full break prior to the 2022 season, and we have embraced the spirit of the team, with team objectives in which everyone is mobilised in this collective willingness and determination, and nothing unattainable.”

Madiot would not be drawn on saying who the team would be eventually riding for when the race rolls out from Copenhagen on July 1.

“We have six months of racing before we get to the Tour de France departure. So we will see how their fitness evolves over the months between now and then. There will be three or four dangerous days at the start of the Tour de France, so we have to go there with different cards to play.

“We will be relying heavily on the collective nature of the team and anticipating a lively first week. Then after a week or so of racing we can see how things are at that stage. But if I said right now who would be the lead rider, I would be talking rubbish.”

Pinot shares Madiot’s optimism for the team’s performance at the Tour de France and believes that things could go well for them in the mountains. 

“With the team we have put together we aim to be solid in the mountain, so there is no reason for us not to be on the podium. Our team has strengths in the mountains that we have rarely seen previously, so we have no doubts about our capability to reach the podium.” 

This would be the perfect antidote to the hiatus in 2021 for the three-time Tour de France stage winner.

“Last year was a difficult period for me. Since my career in 2010 I have never had an injury that lasted so long,” Pinot recounted to Cyclingnews. “I’ve had minor injuries here and there, like anyone else, but being injured for so long without being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, morally was pretty tough – especially as there were many races going on that I couldn’t take part in. I just kept up the belief that I would get back to my previous level, and that’s why I’m motivated this year. I really want to forget about the 2021 season, which was clearly my worst-ever year. So I am really focused and looking forward to 2022.” 

Pinot’s season will begin with the Tour of the Haut Var on February 18. He also plans to race the Tirreno-Adriatico,  Tour of the Jura, Tour of the Alps, Tour of Romandie and the Tour of Switzerland, races which formed part of his usual routine prior to 2018.

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