Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) finished on the Tre Valli Varesine podium for a frustrating third time, beaten in the seven-rider sprint by Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo), but the Frenchman showed he is on superb form and so a real contender for Saturday’s Il Lombardia.
Last year Pinot was beaten by Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale) but went on to finish fifth at Il Lombardia, in the select chase group behind lone winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). Pinot feeds off his own optimism and self-belief, and so seems ready for the weekend despite the disappointment of missing out on victory in Varese.
"Last year I had the same mindset and fought for victory. Today was the same but it didn't happen. That's a pity, but I have no regrets. Skujiņš was faster than me, the best rider won, there’s not much else to say,” Pinot said, pragmatic as ever.
Pinot surged across to the riders in the breakaway in the final kilometres of the race. Only EF Education First-Drapac's Rigoberto Uran and Michael Woods were able to complete the same move, in a clear indication of form. Uran tried a solo attack and then worked for Woods when he was caught. The Canadian was badly positioned in the sprint and could only finish fourth, but Pinot seemed to have the strength and then the speed to almost finish off his aggressive late attack.
"I rode my own race and that's always the best way," Pinot said with a shrug. "I went on the offensive and it worked."
Pinot was forced to quit the Giro d'Italia before the very last parade stage in Rome after being taken to hospital with pneumonia. That meant he missed the Tour de France, but he rode the Vuelta a España, winning two important mountain stages and finishing sixth overall. He seems better than ever due to the change in programme. He was strong and aggressive in the UCI Road World Championships road race as he rode to set up fellow Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, and was fifth in Saturday's Giro dell’Emilia.
Pinot will line-up for Wednesday's Milano-Torino and then prepare for Saturday's Il Lombardia.
"I don't know if I'm in the same form as last year. I can feel the fatigue of the Vuelta and the World Championships but I'm sure everyone else can too. I know that in three days I'll be on vacation," he said.
"Milano-Torino suits me and it's a beautiful race. I'd love to add it to my palmares, and I think I've got the legs. My form is there. I think I'm an outsider for Il Lombardia, but I'd like to shine at Milano-Torino first."