Thibaut Pinot will return to the Giro d’Italia this season in the hopes that he can bounce back as Grand Tour contender.
“If all goes well in the Tour de France, it’s the race you want to be in but when it’s the opposite it’s where you don’t want to be,” Pinot told L’Équipe. The Frenchman spoke about his decision not to ride the Tour de France in 2021, a tough decision for Groupama-FDJ’s management team. As a French team with French sponsors, the Tour de France is Groupama-FDJ’s biggest event of the year, think a month-long Superbowl in the USA.
Pinot has opted for the Giro d’Italia in 2021, his goal being to regain confidence in his Grand Tour ability again. “In 2019 I only had one bad day in three weeks in the Tour and I don’t want to live like that anymore, especially not this year,” said Pinot. “There is something that draws me to the Giro and I think I need that to bounce back. If I do well, I am back on track. The decision was made before the Giro course was announced but seeing the course reinforces my choice.”
As a French Grand Tour hopeful on a French team, Thibaut Pinot has been under a magnifying glass his entire career. As an U23 rider he won important mountainous stage races like Tour des Pays de Savoie and Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc. He first signed with FDJ back in 2010, when he was 19, and has been riding for them ever since. In his Tour de France debut when Pinot placed 10th in the final general classification the potential he had shown as a U23 rider gained more weight and the pressure put on him picked up more momentum. In 2014 Pinot finished third at the Tour de France, but the three weeks had also been synonymous to endless streaks of bad luck.
In the opening stage of the 2020 Tour de France Pinot crashed. The impact resulted in back pains that are still an issue for Pinot today.
“I didn’t want to abandon that Tour de France because I had already done that too many times. Abandoning and being at home for weeks while the Tour is on is not something I want to live through again”, Pinot said. “I also wanted to race the time trial to Planche des Belles Filles [going through his home town Mélisey]. That was a carrot dangling before me. I have no regrets because although it wasn’t a victory it was a memory I will cherish to the end.”
Pinot hopes to regain his confidence racing the Giro d’Italia on a course that suits him more than this year’s Tour de France. In the future, his aim is to return to the Tour at 100%.
“You need to be 100% mentally and physically before the Tour. If you have doubts or fears you already lost. Failing again in the Tour [like in 2019 and 2020] would have been too much [this year]. This year’s Tour de France course only has three mountain top finishes. For a climber like me, three is not enough. But I am convinced I still have the level to do nice things in the Tour.”
Pinot has planned to start his race season next weekend in Tour des Alpes Maritimes et Var but it’s far from certain whether he can actually race. The back problems sustained in the opening stage crash at the Tour de France in Nice were exacerbated when Pinot started the Vuelta a España last October.
“At this moment I am not even thinking of Grand Tours but more about racing again. I don’t know exactly when that will be,” said Pinot. “It’s [the back problems] been six months now so that makes me doubt. There is nothing to see any more on the scans. I started training again in December but when training with power the back plays up again.”
Pinot has always been against the use of corticosteroids in racing but he had to have injections to help his body heal during the off-season.
“I have always been against it on ethical grounds but this was in the off-season, in the middle of winter. I would never do it between two races. There is a month-long effect after an injection so even when you are not racing but the effect is still there. I am completely against it. A rider who needs a TUE [Therapeutical Use Exempt] to be able to ride has nothing to do in a race. I don’t understand why guys do this.”
Pinot’s current plan is to start racing next weekend in Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var, but only if he is at 100%. If his current calendar goes forward as planned he will follow Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var with the Drôme and Ardèche Classique, two one-day races, before Tirreno Adriatico all in an attempt to build up towards the Giro d’Italia.