Wet conditions and a technical finale meant that Thibaut Pinot's first day in the yellow jersey at the Tour de Suisse proved more demanding than might otherwise have been anticipated. The FDJ man conceded 5 seconds of his overall lead to Geraint Thomas (Sky) on stage 6 when he was caught on the wrong side of a split in the final kilometre in Biel.
“It was nervous,” Pinot said, according to L’Équipe. “There were crashes and splits. I was at the front in the final kilometres and I’d managed to avoid crashing when the Etixx-QuickStep riders [Zdenek Stybar and Julien Vermote – ed.] went down in front of me with 5km to go. I could have fallen too. There were a lot of roundabouts and there was a lot of battling for positions. And then you had a lot of riders sitting up and slowing down the people behind them. At a certain point, I lost contact.”
Pinot came home 7 seconds down on stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and 5 seconds behind a small group featuring overall rivals Thomas and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). The Frenchman remains 42 seconds clear of Thomas on general classification, while Simon Spilak (Katusha) lies in third place, a further 8 seconds back.
“The problem was that Matthieu Ladagnous punctured 10km from the finish and he was the one who was supposed to stay longest with me,” Pinot said. “William Bonnet and Sébastien Chavanel were riding for Arnaud Démare in the sprint, while I lost Steve Morabito. Suddenly the finale was a bit complicated.”
Pinot moved into the overall lead after claiming a stylish stage victory atop the Rettenbachferner on Wednesday, and he is in line to become only the third Frenchman to win the Tour de Suisse and the first since Christophe Agnolutto took a surprise win in 1997.
This year’s Tour de Suisse follows a less mountainous route than in recent years and, though Saturday’s penultimate stage features a hilly circuit around Bern, the expectation is that the following day’s concluding 38.4km time trial will prove decisive.
Despite the relative paucity of time trialling miles on this year’s Tour de France route, Pinot has made further progress against the watch in 2015, though he lost 45 seconds to Spilak over just 17 kilometres at the Tour de Romandie in May and is well aware of the threat posed by the Slovenian and Thomas over the longer distance at the weekend.
“It’s been very fast since the start of the Tour de Suisse and on Thursday I think everybody had sore legs after the summit finish the day before so it started off pretty steady,” Pinot said of stage 6. “It was a shame that it rained because it could have been a tranquil day otherwise. I’ll try to recover on Friday, knowing that Saturday is a more difficult stage, so I can be as strong as possible on Sunday for the time trial.”