There was a microclimate of quiet amid the hubbub on Albi's Lices Georges Pompidou after stage 10 of the Tour de France. By a barrier on the shaded side of the street, the Groupama-FDJ entourage stood in hushed silence as Thibaut Pinot wheeled slowly to a halt and wordlessly accepted a drink from his soigneur.
Sebastien Reichenbach and Rudy Molard pulled up moments later and stood mutely in solidarity with their stricken leader as he bowed his head. They had been Pinot's companions in the small group that came home 1:40 down on the stage after the peloton splintered into shards in crosswinds with a little over 30 kilometres remaining.
At one point, around 10 miles from Albi, they had succeeded in closing the gap to less than 15 seconds, but that was still an eon in these conditions. The deficit yawned out inexorably thereafter.
Pinot had begun the day in third place overall, the best positioned of the podium contenders. The Frenchman has plumbed deep caverns of disappointment at the Tour over the years, but his near-flawless opening week raised home hopes that this could be his year.
It might yet be, but he will have to claw his way out of a considerable crevasse. He now lies 11th overall, 2:33 behind yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and 1:11 down on defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos).
A scrum of reporters and television crews inched closer to Pinot as he took a second can from his soigneur. After he had finished drinking, they drew in a little tighter. "It wasn't a good day?" a television reporter asked tentatively.
"Yes," Pinot said, his voice wavering. He began to turn away but paused before he rode off towards his team hotel and spread his arms. "What do you want me to say? There's nothing to say. It was a shit day."
Reichenbach lingered a little longer and put some words on how Groupama-FDJ has somehow missed the decisive split, which took shape when Deceuninck-QuickStep and Team Ineos began to force the issue on the approach to Carmaux.
"From kilometre zero, it was very nervous," Reichnbach said. "It's a pity, with all the energy we spent to stay in front. When we got to within 8 seconds, that was the moment to get back on. Everybody was flat out."
Madiot: The Tour isn't over
Pinot was not alone in losing time on Monday afternoon – Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) all finished alongside him – but his disappointment was surely the most acute given his performances on the race to this point. Directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit, who joined Groupama-FDJ this season, tried to put the setback in perspective.
"It's normal to be disappointed, it's normal to be angry, obviously. But it's not the end of the Tour," Mauduit said. "The story has yet to be written. The most difficult part of the Tour has yet to come."
Speaking in his role as co-commentator on RMC radio, Cyrille Guimard said that it was "inexplicable" that Pinot had been caught out in crosswinds given the strength of his Groupama-FDJ team, which had so impressed to this point.
"The team was up there all day, but there was a moment where they got a bit lost in the peloton," Mauduit said. "It wasn't necessarily a lack of cohesion among the team, but it was a moment where there was panic in the peloton. When there's panic in the peloton, there are movements that cause things to get disorganised. We saw that Jakob, Richie, Rigoberto were dropped also. That's cycling."
Manager Marc Madiot, meanwhile, told Le Parisien that Pinot and his teammates had lost vital places after an error on a roundabout. "They apparently took a roundabout on a false flat on the left when they should have gone on the right. They went from 20th position to 60th and there was a split."
With the modern Tour seemingly decided by ever finer margins, the concession of so much ground to Thomas and Egan Bernal is a hugely significant setback to Pinot's overall hopes. He will scope to try to recoup his deficit in the Pyrenees and Alps, but as the Tour breaks for its first rest day in Albi on Tuesday, his team's first concern will be to restore his dented morale.
"The race isn't over. It has only just begun," Madiot said. "Thibaut was very disappointed, which is good. That means he has the feeling he can do a lot better."
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