Thibaut Pinot has said that he will need to win the Tour de France in order to get over the disappointment of abandoning this year’s race. The Frenchman was still firmly in contention for final overall victory when he was forced out of the race with a thigh injury on stage 19.
It was Pinot’s fourth abandon in seven Tour participations, and he also abandoned the 2018 Giro d’Italia through illness on the penultimate stage when a place on the podium seemed all but assured. The rawness of this latest disappointment was captured in a compelling fly-on-the-wall documentary – Avec Thibaut – broadcast on France Télévisions on Sunday. Click here to watch the French documentary.
In one memorable scene, a disconsolate Pinot sits on the end of his bed as Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot attempts to comfort him. “What did I do to deserve this?” Pinot asks, and he touched upon that sentiment once again in lengthy interviews with L’Équipe and Le Monde, published on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this. I don’t understand,” Pinot told L’Équipe. “I’ve done seven Tours and had four abandons, when on other races, I never abandon. It only happens on Grand Tours, even though they are my races.”
In that climactic scene in Avec Thibaut, Madiot looks to console his rider by describing this latest setback as “a little snag” in a grander destiny that will eventually lead to Tour victory. A distraught Pinot looked unconvinced at the time but had warmed to the idea by the time he spoke to L’Équipe.
“To forget all this, all these struggles, only a win will do. A podium won’t suffice anymore,” Pinot said. “To forget all this, yes, I will need to win the Tour.”
Pinot revisited the circumstances that led to his abrupt abandon, and he dismissed a rumour that the problem was caused by an old football injury. He also wasn’t certain that the muscular problem had been triggered while braking to avoid a crash on stage 17 to Gap, noting that he had only started to feel pain in the area at the start of the following day’s Alpine stage to Valloire.
“The pain got worse on the Col d’Izoard, it was already very bad. On the Col du Lautaret, I was pedalling on one leg. We were in the big ring, with the wind at our backs, forcing it, and that really, really hurt,” Pinot told Le Monde. “I was only waiting for one thing, and that was to get onto the Galibier itself, where we could go onto the little ring and climb more with suppleness.”
Although Pinot’s distress was such that he was unable to follow Egan Bernal’s attack on the Galibier, he appeared the strongest of the rest of the yellow jersey group that was chasing behind. “In my head I was still solid. The muscle was still very warmed up. It was very sore, but I was getting through it,” Pinot said. “On one leg, I was there. But the descent was horrible. I couldn't accelerate.”
Asked by Le Monde if he would have been able to follow Bernal were it not for the injury, Pinot said: “We’ll never know, and I don’t want to ask myself that question. I was on one leg, that’s all.”
Abandon after a sense of victory
In Avec Thibaut, Pinot is shown to be scarcely able to walk down the stairs on the evening of the Galibier stage, such was the pain of his thigh injury. Intense physiotherapy ahead of stage 19 could do little to improve the situation, and the Frenchman abandoned in tears barely 30km into the stage.
“I had the impression that I was reliving exactly what I went though last year on the Giro,” Pinot told L’Équipe. “Everything collapsed like a house of cards, in one kilometre, everything that we had built over the season… Even everything I had rebuilt since the Giro, everything was dismantled once again. I was devastated.”
Prior to the Tour, Pinot had admitted that he wasn’t certain he wanted to win the race at all, for fear it might change his life beyond recognition. Asked by Le Monde if his injury was thus a psychological one, Pinot said: “I don’t think so. When I get ill at the end of a Grand Tour, maybe it’s precisely because I’m stressed about falling ill. But here, I was sure of myself. During the rest day after the Pyrenees, I wasn’t tired, I had no muscular pain. I was fresh physically and mentally. There was nothing psychological about it, no.
“For me, it’s destiny, and I’m taking it like that. In my head, I was impatient to get to the Alps. I had no fear. Maybe Egan Bernal would have been stronger, but I was ahead of him on GC and I don’t see why three days after Prat d’Albis [where Pinot distanced Bernal – ed.] my condition would have been less good. I was ready.”
Pinot admitted that losing time in the crosswinds in Albi had been almost a blessing in disguise, as otherwise he would have endured the greater trauma of abandoning a Tour that he was on the cusp of winning. “If I had abandoned when I was 10 seconds off yellow with an an advantage on everyone else, I’d need a lot more time to get over it,” he told L’Équipe.
Pinot’s mixed history at the Tour prompted him to ride the Giro d’Italia in 2017 and 2018, but he acknowledged that this year’s edition has changed his relationship with the race for the foreseeable future. “I realised that you can win any race, you can be world champion, but only the Tour can make you a rider that people won’t forget,” Pinot said. “That’s why I want to come back.”
On Tuesday, Pinot visited a specialist in Monaco for an assessment of his injury. It is unclear when he will return to racing but on Tuesday afternoon, Groupama-FDJ announced that he would be off the bike for 20 days after the assessment revealed that he had sustained a lesion to the vastus medialis muscle in his left thigh.
He suggested to Le Monde that he might ride Il Lombardia in support of teammate David Gaudu, though his thoughts are already turning to 2020, and the Tour, the Tokyo Olympics and World Championships in Switzerland.
“In my head, I’m already onto next season,” he concluded.