In a head-to-head finish against rival Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) the FDJ leader took the stage win, moved into the top ten, and pulled on the polka-dot jersey at the end of the day. Not a bad return after the Frenchman admitted that he had been struggling throughout the stage.
"I needed to attack today. I didn't want to be an anonymous rider on the Dauphine because of my bad start," he said at the finish. "My goal is now accomplished because I won a stage and I'd rather do that than finish seventh overall and come away with nothing else."
Pinot established himself as a bigger GC threat with much improved time trialing this season, and his wins in the Critérium International and the Tour de Romandie time trial boded well for the Dauphiné. But the Frenchman lost 57 seconds in the prologue, then had a bad day in the first mountain stage, losing 2:30.
To help salvage his race, Pinot moved clear of the bunch with Bardet and several other riders on the Col de la Madeleine after Alberto Contador had attempted to isolate race leader Chris Froome.
Pinot rode in the wheels as AGR2 La Modiale pulled the break to the foot of the final climb and was the only rider who could catch on when Bardet accelerated for the first time with 10 kilometres remaining. With Bardet riding as the virtual leader on the road, the onus was on him to set the pace, and Pinot duly sat on as his countryman led up the final summit of what had been an engrossing day of racing.
When Bardet accelerated again with three kilometres remaining, Pinot was able to withstand the pressure and coming towards the line he had too much for Bardet. The pair of them sprinting head-to-head and towards the line will, however, surely become one an iconic image of their rivalry and an illustration of France's continued resurgence.
"Bardet attacked with 10 to go and I had to give it everything to match him," Pinot admitted.
"I certainly wasn't bluffing. Then he went again with three kilometres and I had to fight again. This was really a mental victory for me. It was tough at the start of the climb because that's where I find it toughest. I have to adapt to that in the future and work on that, but today was a perfect stage for me with the long climbs. I looked at the stage in the road book but I was stressed this morning because I knew that I had to be in the main break."
Pinot added that he would look to attack again on Sunday's final stage. He is now 2:12 down on race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) and in 10th place overall but the onus will be on protecting his KOM jersey. He is currently tied on 37 points with Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), who won the jersey twelve months ago.
"I will try again and go for the stage win. I have the mountains jersey on my shoulders and it will be hard to defend but I'll try and recover for one more day."