A little under three weeks after claiming that he had no fear racing Paris-Nice, Thibaut Pinot has admitted that fighting the spread of coronavirus Covid-19 comes before any competition, even the Tour de France.
Currently at home on his farm in Mélisey in the Franche-Comté, the Groupama-FDJ rider is resting after a recent block of racing. He will start training on the turbo trainer in the coming days but the Frenchman told Cyclingnews that the spread of the virus had reached close to home after France’s death toll from the pandemic stretched beyond 1300 on Wednesday evening.
France is now in lockdown but while Pinot remains at home and tends to his animals his parents remain working and on the frontline of France’s defence. For now, the hardest part of isolation is mental rather than physical for the Groupama-FDJ leader.
“Being confined isn’t weighing too much upon me, mentally. I'm lucky I live in the countryside and I'm surrounded by nature. All this time is an opportunity for me to take care of all the animals I have at home. They require a lot of work,” he told Cyclingnews.
“However the most upsetting part is not being able to see my loved ones. My parents live a kilometre from my home and we can't see each other. My mother is a nurse and my father works in a funeral home. They are directly in contact with the virus every day. So we absolutely want to take all the necessary precautions so as not to contaminate each other.
“For now, I’m resting. My initial plans were for me to observe an off-period after the Volta a Catalunya, but in the end, this period was just advanced to the days that followed Paris-Nice. So for me, not riding is not a constraint for now in my preparation. As to me coming back to training, I am planning to resume indoor training on the home trainer this weekend. Usually, I would have adapted my training to the weather forecast, but... I don't have this problem anymore...”
The question is not whether the Tour de France can take place at any cost
Pinot started the season with his aim firmly focused on the Tour de France. He was a leading contender in the race last year and took the fight to Team Ineos through the Pyrenees before injury forced him out in the final week.
This year he planned to return to the race and target the maillot jaune again but with the pandemic now keeping billions of people in their homes and lockdowns likely to be extended a July Tour de France looks far from certain.
UEFA’s European Championships – originally scheduled for June – the Giro d’Italia and the Olympic Games have all been postponed dates, while ASO has yet to decide if its marquee event will go ahead.
There have been calls for the Tour to be moved to later in the year, with a possible truncated version slotting into a revamped cycling calendar. However, on Wednesday there was some indication the French minister of sport that the race could still take place behind ‘closed doors’. Paris-Nice took place under such circumstances, with heavy road closers in place and crowds blocked from attending the start and finish zones. The race was ended a day early before it reached Nice.
When asked if he felt the situation in France would improve enough for the Tour to go ahead in July, Pinot said: “I don't know, I don't have an opinion on that. The most important thing, for now, is for the health conditions to improve in Europe.”
“The question is not whether the Tour de France can take place at any cost or not. My concern lies mainly in the fact that if we cancel the Tour de France, it would mean that the pandemic has not stopped. I don't know if ASO can postpone the Tour. But yes canceling or postponing are options, and yes, of course, it worries me because a season without the Tour and without a Grand Tour, when it’s your job, it is complicated to imagine.”
But Pinot also realizes that the world of professional cycling pales in comparison when compared to the greater issues the world currently faces.
“The most important thing is public health. Sport is certainly important and carries a lot of emotions, but it is not a priority at the moment. Racing right now seems a bit trivial. There are so many other priorities than knowing whether the Tour is going to be canceled or postponed. That’s why I don’t complain and if I have to train for a month on my home trainer, I will do it and I really feel like I’m not allowed to complain. We are experiencing an unreal situation and bike races are nothing next to this."