Amid the mania that accompanied Thibaut Pinot's victory on the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday, there was still one nagging doubt: could he have gone earlier?
So convincing was the Frenchman's acceleration in the final 250 metres, so efficiently did the Groupama-FDJ leader distance those left with him, that some wondered whether his acceleration might have have been best deployed a couple of kilometres further down the mountain.
Pinot explained that the stage victory was his priority – he was wrapped up in the atmosphere on one of the Tour de France's most famous climbs, and general classification calculations were far from his mind.
Twenty-four hours later, it was a different story. Pinot went on the offensive more than six kilometres from the top of the Prat d'Albis on stage 15 on Sunday, and reaped the rewards. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) held on from the break, so there was no stage victory, but once again Pinot rode away from all his rivals in the hunt for the yellow jersey.
He put 18 seconds into Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), 49 into Bernal's teammate Geraint Thomas and Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, and 1:16 into race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). As a result, Pinot is now up to fourth overall, with his hopes of the podium surely turning into hopes of overall victory.
"I knew the final part of the climb was gentler, so I thought if I attacked on the steep section, I wouldn't be taking too much of a risk by going into the red," Pinot explained. "Even if I was caught, I'd still be able to follow the wheels on that last part."
Besides, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Pinot was clearly flying on the Tourmalet and, with ground still to make up, he had to make his superiority count on Sunday, too.
"Today, I needed to take advantage. When you have good legs, you always have to take advantage," he said.
It wasn't just his legs he had to take advantage of. Six days ago, the weather gods frowned on Thibaut Pinot and blew a strong wind across the road outside Albi, derailing his dream start to the Tour. In Foix on Sunday, they smiled on him, handing him the rain and murk he thrives on to allow him to continue his charge up the standings.
"This is my weather," said Pinot, who has often struggled with blaring sunshine. "I had to take advantage of it. It was the kind of stage I like, and I had good legs, so I had to go for it."
Pinot also took advantage of a strong team display. With Team Ineos far below their usual standard, Groupama-FDJ have caught the eye.
David Gaudu was instrumental in shredding the group of favourites on the Tourmalet, and while he wasn't quite as powerful on Sunday, he still laid the foundations for Pinot's attack. As Pinot moved clear, he immediately found Sebastian Reichenbach, who'd been placed in the break.
"That was the tactic we drew up this morning," he said. "It worked to the letter. We truly showed that we're a strong, attacking team – I'd been saying it for a while. We've really gone on the offensive, and it's paying off."
Pinot has come roaring back into the battle for the title, after that setback in the crosswinds that cost him 1:40. In fact, in the past two days, he has put 1:40 back into Thomas. The deficit has been cancelled out, although he will still wonder what might have been. He lies fourth overall, 1:50 behind a fading Alaphilippe and just 15 seconds behind Thomas, who's in second place.
There's still a long way to go – three back-to-back mountain stages in the Alps await in the final week – but for now, Pinot is the strongest climber in the race.
"I have to keep going. We set out to move back up the GC, and we've done that. Now, the hardest stages, the hardest climbs, are coming," he said. "If I have good legs, I'll continue to take time."
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