There was a sense after Thibaut Pinot had the stage four win at the Tour of the Alps ripped from him at the last minute that he would be out for revenge.
In his post-race interview after stage four, he was chewing wasps, spitting angry that Miguel Ángel López had denied him a victory that would have capped off his return to form. It would have been the confidence boost to provide the final piece of the jigsaw for a rider who can often be accused of not having the head to match his supreme legs.
And so, on the final stage five, he hauled himself up the road once again in search of a comeback victory, looking to finally break his 1,007-day duck.
After the big breakaway group formed, Pinot was on the right side of every selection until it was just the Frenchman and Astana’s David de la Cruz up the road. For 66km, the pair toiled toward the finish line, De la Cruz with his own point to prove, winless for a year longer than Pinot.
At the bottom of the final climb, it looked like it could be heartbreak again as Pinot suffered a mechanical. A mechanic hung out the back of the team car and managed to right the issue. Then the Frenchman attacked, momentarily dropping his collaborator.
The Groupama-FDJ man tightened his shoes into the final kilometer, grimacing with every fibre as he accelerated over the final kick toward the line. His Spanish companion was empty, and so Pinot lifted his hands in the air, a first win since that day on the Tourmalet at the 2019 Tour.
“Well yes, it’s a really huge relief for me,” Pinot said in a more measured tone than the emotions of yesterday. “I had one idea, just to get in the breakaway and win. With the rain, I knew I had a chance, with the rain it was cold, these are conditions I really like.”
“Today, nothing was going to happen to me, it was mine. It’s a hugely special victory for me.”
However, the party wasn’t over just yet, as two races within one had emerged. Pello Bilbao’s slender race lead was under attack on the final uphill before Romain Bardet clipped off the front, assisted by DSM teammate Thymen Arensman. He overhauled the two-second deficit in the overall to claim a first stage race win since the 2013 Tour de l’Ain, the only other stage race victory on his palmarès, which was also his debut professional win.
“For a long time, they were the future of French cycling,” Eurosport’s Rob Hatch said on the commentary of Pinot and Bardet, “Today, they are the present”.
“Thibaut’s back,” his Groupama-FDJ teammate Michael Storer said after the finish. Let us hope so.