Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) had only raced for nine days before starting the Tour of the Alps but showed he is on form as his double assault on the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France nears, finishing second on stage 2's mountain finish at Alpe di Pampeago behind Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
Pinot dug deep on the steep final kilometres to the ski resort. He made one attack after Chris Froome (Team Sky) tried an acceleration but when he realised that it was impossible to get away into the headwind, he focused on being well placed for the sprint to the line.
Lopez had the extra speed to kick ahead and win the stage but Pinot was able to beat new race leader Ivan Sosa (Androni Giocattoli) and distance Froome, finishing four seconds ahead of the Briton. He also gained a six-second time bonus for second place and so is now second overall, six seconds down on the young Colombian and ten seconds the better of Froome.
Pinot crossed the finish line with his tongue out and his jersey open. After being pushed up the steep road by his Groupama-FDJ soigneur, he stopped and emptied a bottle of fluids.
"It was a small group sprint so I thought I had a good chance," Pinot said, trying to hide his disappointment.
"But it was very tactical because there was a headwind in the final kilometre, so you couldn't go from too far out, and you couldn't afford to make too many efforts. I was looking for the stage win because it's always important to win, but I was beaten in the sprint."
Pinot has enjoyed a relaxed and low profile early season after convincing team manager Marc Madiot to let him again ride the Giro d'Italia before focusing on the Tour de France. He was buoyed by his fourth place at the 2017 Giro d’Italia and is convinced he can do even better this year before going on to at least target stages at the Tour de France.
Despite his limited racing, Pinot has clearly been working hard in training as he tries to combine the pleasures of simply riding his bike with the obligations of racing at WorldTour level as a team leader of Groupama-FDJ. He finished fifth over at the Tour du Haut-Var in early February and then tenth overall at the Volta a Catalunya after taking third on stage three and then fifth up to the mountain finish of La Molina.
Pinot spent time training with several teammates in Sicily before the Tour of the Alps and seems confident he is building nicely towards the Giro d’Italia.
"There are still three quite difficult stages to come but the break will have a great chance of staying away to the finish," knowing he had missed out on his best chance to take his first win of 2018.
"The main thing here is to prepare for the Giro, and I'm on track for that, so I'm happy."
Rather than a stage victory, Pinot will have to fight for overall success or at least a place on the podium, hoping he can topple Sosa, perhaps on the final stage to Innsbruck on the circuits that will feature in the road race at the World Championships.
"The stages to come aren’t summit finishes so they’re different but still difficult. The final stage looks very difficult and if there's going to be a fight for the general classification, that's where it will happen," he predicted.
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