Today, Thibaut Pinot was extremely on-brand

A GC raid? A shot at a stage win? Take your pick.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 13.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos, Gruber Images, and Iain Treloar
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When Thibaut Pinot bridged the gap to the breakaway around 90 km from the stage finish, France rode with him. The mercurial climber is a headline feature in his home Grand Tour, and after a career of soaring highs and crushing lows this is his last chance before retirement.

Was this the moment for Pinot to shine? 

Yes. No. Depends who you ask. Depends even more what you think the goal of Pinot’s move was. 

Pinot and Jorgensen – two key animators of stage 12. Photo: Cor Vos.

Through the closing kilometres of the stage – a lumpy, aggressive bout into Beauville-en-Beaujolais – the breakaway of ten splintered, and splintered again. You can tell who’s seen as a threat by how aggressively they’re closed down, and it was clear that eyes were on Movistar’s Matteo Jorgensen. Pinot, meanwhile, seemed to be on a good day, but not so good that he could throw caution to the wind. Jorgensen would attack, and Pinot would neutralise. When Ion Izagirre flew off the front, the competing objectives of his chasers meant that the chase lacked coordination.

And Izagirre was gone

A minute back down the road, Pinot seemingly had everything to ride for, whether on the stage or on the GC. He’d entered the Tour not as team leader – that honour went to David Gaudu – but as a kind of stage-hunting talisman. Groupama-FDJ probably didn’t have all that much of a choice on the selection front: just try to leave France’s most beloved rider out of his retirement Tour and see how many people are left cheering for the team. But Gaudu’s not really firing yet; yesterday it was Pinot who dragged him back to the peloton after he slid off the back early in the day. Today, Pinot went it alone.

The tall, haunted-looking Frenchman crossed the line in sixth – behind a mix of big names and small; in order, Izagirre, Mathieu Burgaudeau, Jorgensen, Tiesj Benoot, and Tobias Johannessen. Pinot had seemingly marked himself out of the chase and then the battle for the minor placings. Or had he?

An optimistic French interpretation: that it was an audacious move up the general classification. Five places up; a doomed tenth place, 32 seconds behind a doomed David Gaudu in ninth place.

An alternative interpretation: maybe Pinot was all-in just for the spoils of the day, and maybe today just wasn’t his day. Speaking to Escape Collective, Uno-X’s smily Norwegian, Johannessen – who’d lamented his own “fucked legs” in the finale – thought that checked out: “I think [Pinot] was hoping for a stage victory. I think it wasn’t only me that had bad legs in the end there.”

A few minutes earlier, Pinot had ridden down the finishing chute into an unlovely industrial estate, followed at a jog by the Groupama-FDJ press officer. He coughed a haggard cough, spat three times, hopped his wheel over a median strip, and entered the small bubble of calm next to the team bus, walled in by a thicket of cameras and microphones. For a moment he looked like he’d dump the bike and head up the stairs, or at least cool down. But instead, before even undoing his helmet – breath still heaving – he faced the music. 

“I’d blown,” he said. He wasn’t on a good day. He gave it everything. He has no regrets. 

After Pinot had disappeared onto the bus, the team’s sports director, Philippe Mauduit, spoke to media – first in French, and then in English. A good day or a frustrating one? He split the difference: “In the end it’s a frustrating day, but on the overall picture, let’s say it’s a good day. A good day, because we could see that Thibaut finally could make it to the front … of course it could have been a better result, but that’s racing.”

Two Groupama-FDJ riders in the top 10. Barring disaster, there’s an insurmountable gap to the upper steps of the podium, but room to move up in the standings. Do the objectives of these two stars of French cycling compete? Not so, according to Mauduit. “[Pinot] had encouragement from David on the radio – he told him, ‘Go, go, go,’” the team’s director said, smiling. “They are matching good together.”

Pinot and Gaudu ride together to the summit of Puy de Dôme, on stage 9. Photo: Cor Vos.

The Alps loom, with the Bastille Day summit finish of the Grand Colombier tomorrow. That’s a stage that seems set for the Frenchest of French teams – the Frenchest of French riders – but Thibaut Pinot, contrary and mercurial to the end, may have other ideas. “I burned a fair few matches today,” he said. “I hope I don’t pay for it too much, and I’ll try to take it a bit easier tomorrow.”

Longer term in the Tour, Groupama-FDJ may have other ideas, and you shouldn’t rule out another romantic, doomed Thibaut Pinot breakaway, or further forays into the GC. There are two French riders at the fringe of the top 10. Whichever way he goes, Thibaut Pinot has nothing to lose – if he wants to chase it.

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