In scenes that were at times difficult to watch, a clearly pained Thibaut Pinot was shepherded through stage 20 of the Giro d'Italia on Saturday by his loyal Groupama-FDJ teammates before all but collapsing at the finish line.
Taken to hospital in nearby Aoste – feverish and with a temperature of 40ºC, according to sports newspaper L'Equipe – Pinot was diagnosed with pneumonia, and kept in hospital overnight before being discharged later on Sunday.
While Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates had cracked on Friday's 19th stage and lost the race lead and almost 40 minutes to stage winner and new race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), Pinot looked to have done enough on the stage to secure a podium position, having distanced Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Media) and, of course, Yates.
Pinot fought hard to stay in contention with eventual Giro runner-up Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) from Venaria Reale to the summit finish on Monte Jafferau, via the gravel roads of the Colle delle Finestre, even distancing Dumoulin on the final climb to finish 16 seconds ahead of the Dutchman, and ending the day third overall, 4:17 down on leader Froome and 3:37 behind Dumoulin, with Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez 40 seconds further back in fourth place.
But by Saturday, Pinot's considerable efforts of the previous day had caught up with him, and the Frenchman was visibly in trouble on the day's penultimate climb, the Col de Saint-Pantaléon, before struggling on both the descent and on the final climb up to Cervinia, apparently loathe to give up before the finish because he didn't want to let his team down.
"We knew that Thibaut had been suffering for some time, and that he'd been pushing himself hard all week," said teammate Jérémy Roy, who is set to retire after this season, and for whom the Giro was his final Grand Tour. "Today [Saturday], he was in agony on his bike, and it was awful to see.
"But that's sport," Roy continued on the Groupama-FDJ website. "There are highs and lows, tears, joys and sorrows, and today it wasn't the nicest side of cycling that we saw."
According to Groupama-FDJ team doctor Jacky Maillot, Pinot is now on a two-week course of antibiotics, and has been told to rest – which, crucially, means staying off the bike.
"While he recovers from pneumonia, we're not thinking about anything else," Maillot told L'Equipe, which casts Pinot's participation in this year's Tour de France into serious doubt.
The Tour starts in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, on the west coast of France, on July 7, and Pinot may yet prefer to recover fully from the Giro before considering an assault on the Vuelta a Espana, which runs from August 26 to September 16.