The pleasure Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) feels at taking part in the Giro d'Italia for the second year running was palpable during the Frenchman's pre-race press conference, but there are two issues set to be writ large in this year's race that Pinot would prefer to avoid: high temperatures and aeroplanes.
"It's not ideal, with the heat," Pinot said when informed that the temperature is forecast to soar to 39 degrees on Friday afternoon. "It doesn't suit me at all."
"But fortunately April had a lot relatively hot weather, much more so than Catalunya where we were freezing cold, but in the Tour of the Alps, the temperatures got to 30 degrees. And the worst of the heat was on uphill finishes, not when it's flat, as it will be for the first few days here."
The second issue for Pinot, he later revealed, was that he didn't like flying, which was a necessary requirement both to get to Israel for the start and will once again feature heavily on his schedule on Monday when the race heads back to Sicily and more familiar surroundings. "But I have to make do, and we have to accept that," he said resignedly.
Still, Pinot's love of Italy and racing in this country, as well as a very hard-fought fourth place and stage win in the Giro d'Italia 2017 outweigh any reservations he might have about temperatures and high altitudes. It is also true his track record in Italy, right back to his stunning ride in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc as an amateur in 2009 that propelled him into the ranks of the professionals, has been a consistently strong one.
First though, come the three days in Israel, Pinot was fulsome in his praise of the hospitality and warm welcome he had received so far. However, when asked, repeatedly, about the "Holy Places of Israel" and how he felt about racing so close to them, Pinot was notably less forthcoming, saying simply "I have nothing to say about them."
He was a little more articulate about the reasons why last year he had an uneven ride in parts of the 2017 Giro, saying he had been sick in the second half, and lost time then "due to lots of different things." This year, he stated resolutely, "I hope to be more consistent."
Pinot revealed his fondness for racing in particular in rural Italy remains undimmed, too, despite the passing of the seasons. "I like the roads there, it's always suited me well. The races are very different to the Tour, but that's part of the Giro's charm, the finishes in those old towns and across the country. They can be difficult stages, but I like them," he mused.
The one big difference to last year, perhaps, is that rather than Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Chris Froome (Team Sky) is on the starting grid and a stand-out favourite. Given the controversy swirling around the question of Froome's participation, regardless of what he is capable of achieving, Pinot was notably diplomatic about the Briton's presence.
"I think from the moment he's here, he's here. The race starts and we go on with that as it stands. I'm here to try to do my own race, and with or without Froome, that doesn't change anything."
What does change, perhaps, is that Pinot is fresh off a stunning victory in the Tour of the Alps, with Froome and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) amongst the challengers. That surely has had to boost his morale and motivation.
"Up to a point," Pinot argued with all the cautiousness of a rider who knows that Sky have often shone in the Tour of the Alps in the past before coming to a cropper in the Giro d'Italia. "The form of a rider in the Tour of the Alps and in the Giro d'Italia can be very different. Some of the riders are not at their Giro d'Italia form yet. I've won the race, but I've switched my focus very rapidly to here. I don't want to give it too much importance. I might be more closely marked here in the Giro than if I hadn't won."
"The most important thing is to be in good form and to be able to attack in the Giro if and when I want."
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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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