Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot may not have had the Tour de France he'd hoped for this year, but on Saturday the Frenchman will be racing the stage 20 individual time trial on home roads between Lure and La Planche des Belle Filles, passing by his old high school and college along the way, according to his older brother and coach Julien.
A stage win at the top of the final climb might go some way to making up for a Tour that Pinot had started as one of the favourites, but suddenly lost over 25 minutes on stage 8 when the back injury he'd sustained in a crash on the opening stage of the race in Nice became too much to bear, and he now sits in 30th place overall, almost two hours down on race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), having been determined to reach Paris on Sunday.
"It's a pretty incredible opportunity to do a time trial on roads that you've ridden on thousands and thousands of times," Julien Pinot said on the Groupama-FDJ website on Friday. "The start is in front of Thibaut's former high school, and we'll go past 50 metres from our parents' house, in front of the college both of us went to. It couldn't be more at home than this.
"The public is waiting for Thibaut, also to comfort him, and it will for sure be a big party," he said. "Beyond trying to perform, we'll really have to try to enjoy these moments, which are extremely rare in a rider's career. It will be a happier note on which to finish this Tour."
The 36km test features a flat first half and a hillier second half, and could see some riders switch from a time trial bike to a road bike for the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles, although Julien Pinot in fact sees the stage as being made up of three parts.
"It's a very long time trial, and few riders have done one that long this year, so it's already a big unknown," he said. "There are three distinct parts. The first 16 kilometres are almost flat. The next 15 are a gradual climb, which actually includes a fairly technical three-kilometre descent. Then we arrive at the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles, which is a very steep climb.
"Within an effort that lasts less than an hour, the riders will go through different profiles and pedal strokes. In that sense, it's very unique. This will inevitably lead to some surprises and gaps," the Groupama-FDJ coach said.
Thibaut Pinot – the 2016 French time trial champion – will be up against the likes of race leader Roglic trying to seal his first Tour victory, while second-placed Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), who's the reigning Slovenian time trial champion, will be desperately trying to make up the 57-second deficit to his compatriot.
Fourth-placed Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) should take back at least some time on third-placed Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), while 2017 time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin will be another favourite for the stage, free to fly from his ninth place overall after having worked in the service of Roglic during this year's race.
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