Thibaut Pinot was never likely to do it the easy way. His history with the Tour de France has been a turbulent one and his latest quest began with all-too-familiar drama on the rain-soaked opening stage around Nice.
The day was punctuated by a spate of crashes that eventually saw the peloton elect to neutralise the race until the final 20km or so. Pinot might have thought he had come through the worst when he emerged unscathed from the litany of incidents that marked the passage through the hills north of Nice, but he was among the many fallers when the race returned to the city in the run-in.
The mass crash took place just inside the 3km to go banner, which meant that Pinot was awarded the same time as stage winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), but his torn kit and the exasperation on his face suggested that the incident might yet have an impact on his general classification ambitions on this Tour.
After the stage, Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ team confirmed that he had sustained no fractures in the crash and the Frenchman looked to strike an upbeat note when he arrived at the start of stage 2 on Sunday morning, though he acknowledged that he could still feel the effects of his fall.
“I’ve had better nights and I’ve woken up better. I’m a bit sore everywhere this morning but I don’t have anything broken so the road goes on,” Pinot said, according to Sud Ouest.
“I have a lot of aches and pains on my side and a haematoma on my back because another rider bumped into me when I fell. That's what worries me. I hope the knee will get better once it's warm and that when I start riding, it will unlock a little bit.”
Pinot will face an immediate test of his powers of recovery on Sunday afternoon, when the Tour enters the high mountains earlier than it has done at any point since 1992, when the race skirted the Pyrenees on the second road stage from San Sebastián to Pau. The peloton will tackle the category 1 ascents of the Col de la Colmiane and the Col de Turini midway through the stage before a demanding finale in Nice that takes in the Col d’Èze and the Col des Quatre Chemins.
“I hope to have the sensations to stay with the best riders,” Pinot said. “It’s going to be fast today and, why not, there could be attacks from GC contenders in the finale.”
Pinot’s obvious discontent as he soft-pedalled in the company of teammates to the finish on the Promenade des Anglais on Saturday recalled his frustration at losing ground in the crosswinds at Albi on the 2019 Tour. Last year’s setback initially looked like a decisive blow to his challenge, but he rebounded by going on the offensive in the Pyrenees and winning atop the Tourmalet.
Unlike in Albi, Pinot conceded no ground on his rivals for overall victory, but his annoyance at the dangers posed by the treacherous parcours was still apparent on Sunday morning.
“When we saw the weather yesterday, we all knew what was going to happen to us,” Pinot said, according to L’Équipe. “The proof is that it was the first time I deflated my tyres to six bars. We knew there were going to be crashes, so when I see that people are criticising us because we neutralised the race…"
“As riders, we don’t understand that, because it was a day of stress like I’ve never experienced before. That made me angry, because it wasn’t cycling. Rain and crashes are part of racing, but when the road isn’t rideable… On the descent yesterday, there was diesel all over the road. On television, you couldn’t see it all. There were crashes on every corner. That’s why it was one of my first days on a bike.”
Speaking on France Télévisions, Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot supported the peloton’s decision to neutralise the stage, but he expressed concern at the condition of David Gaudu, who suffered a traumatism to the sacrum in the same crash as Pinot. The climber started stage 2, but was struggling off the back of the peloton in the opening kilometres.
“The organisers propose the route, the managers and directeurs sportifs devise the tactics, but the riders decide what to do – because they’re the ones out there riding and we should never forget that,” Madiot said. “I think they took the right decision.”
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