The Groupama-FDJ rider was gapped around halfway up the agonisingly steep farm track but he seemed to improve the higher it went. He gradually clawed his way back up to the fast-dwindling group of favourites. Then when Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) launched themselves forwards in the final kilometre, Pinot managed to bridge across with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team).
17 seconds adrift of the strongest GC rider, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on the Camperona, at Praeres Pinot regained two seconds on the Colombian, crossing the line in fourth place. He is 11th at 2:46 but far more upbeat about his Vuelta a Espana and the final week.
“We had hoped to do a little better but I have some strong rivals out there,” Pinot said as he waited to head down the descent to the team buses. “I just didn’t have the legs to finish it off.”
“But I seem to be getting better. Tomorrow [Sunday] is longer and steady so we hope it’s another chance for me.”
Asked if he thought that Praeres was the hardest climb he had ever done, Pinot responded with a slight grin that “You only find this kind of climb at the Vuelta. I’d say it was one of the hardest because it was so steep, but the Zoncolan is tougher.”
Overall, Pinot has climbed from 16th to 11th overall, and with the Lagos de Covadonga - of the three second weekend summit finishes, the one which on paper favours him the most - still to come, it could well be that he yet gains further placings on GC as he continues to hunt for stage wins.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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