Riding is Life


Thibaut Pinot, une dernière fois

One last time.

Caley Fretz
by Caley Fretz 23.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos and Gruber Images
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A flag with his face on it fluttered off a long pole above a six-deep crowd, held aloft by a man in a blue onesie screaming ‘ALLEZ THIBAUT’ at the top of his lungs. A small child holding a sign in red, white, and blue, was held unceremoniously back from launching into a run by a stiff-armed Gendarme. Thousands of them, lined up, topped up, paying homage and thanks to a rider that has defined French cycling across its better and its worse for a decade. Allez, Thibaut Pinot. This was your day, your mountain, and for a few fleeting moments it felt like the bike race might give you what you dared not dream of. 

Pinot’s stage 20 attack was so inevitable and obvious that L’Equipe, France’s largest sports daily put it in print 12 hours before it happened. The paper led with a photo of him alone, out of the saddle in the middle of that little wiggle he has, with the headline ‘Pinot, one last assault’. 

Arthur Vichot, one of Pinot’s former teammates, held a megaphone and crouched down. In his hand was a piece of paper printed with Pinot’s face and ‘Virage Pinot Livret des Chants’. Virage Pinot, a place of worship, is now an official location on Google Maps with over 700 five-star reviews. The Livret des Chants is the song list, prepared in advance, printed out by the hundreds. “Alors, une dernière fois,” Vichot says. One last time.

He opens with a simple one. Slowly at first. Low. The whole crowd crouches down.

Thibaut Piiinoooot.

Sha laa laaaa la la la la laaaaa

Thibaut Pinoooot.

Slightly faster now. A man with a drum comes in. 

Thibaut Piiinoooot. 

Sha laa laaaa la la la la laaaaa

Thibaut Pinoooot.

They rise in time with the beat, faster and faster, higher and higher, until it breaks into a chaotic euphoria that they surely can’t sustain. He won’t even be here for another three hours.

And yet, they do. 

There is an Instagram page for the Collectif Ultras Pinot, a group of ‘supporters des GOAT’. ‘Ultras’ is a football term, the crazy people behind each goal with flares and drums and flags so big they can hardly see the play in front of them, who trade time and money and probably sanity for unflinching, unending support of something outside themselves. 

Marc Madiot followed up the Petit Ballon in the Groupama-FDJ car, window open, taking in the volume, the love, the chaos and crying as he cries, pretending to hold it all back for the cameras but only adding to the scene of it all.

When Pinot came through he had not even 30 seconds on his chasers in the breakaway, and just over a minute on the yellow jersey group, who were only beginning to ramp up toward their run at the stage win. They will inevitably take this day for themselves; they are better bike racers, more in their prime, led by strong teams. Nobody in the peloton will gift this day to Pinot and Pinot would not want such a gift. Anyway, he doesn’t need it. He has the Virage, the signs, the flares, the chants, the flags. He has the French, and for him, what more could be worth having? 

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