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SAINT-ÉTIENNE, France (VN) — “It’s just natural” for Thibaut Pinot to lead the Tour de France classification battle, says Team Groupama-FDJ.
The 29-year-old Frenchman leads the 2019 Tour virtual classification thanks to an attack in stage 8. Pinot sits third overall, the best of the riders who can possibly win the race in two weeks. He has 19 seconds on Geraint Thomas (Ineos), 23 on Egan Bernal (Ineos) and 34 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).
“This is just natural for Thibaut,” Groupama-FDJ sports director Philippe Mauduit.
Mauduit worked with Alberto Contador and many others over the years and joined the French WorldTour team this year, being pleasantly surprised.
“The thing that surprised me the most is that he’s completely the opposite from what the media was saying about him. You know, before I joined the team, I read a lot of articles about him to try to get as much info as possible,” he continued.
“I saw many negative things, like he’s not able to descend or afraid about the pressure, he’s scared about many things, but that’s not true. We saw that yesterday. He was one of the best descenders in the bunch, he was there, and he was doing his job and his part.
“That’s just Thibaut. He’s natural, he’s not trying to escape from his personality and where he’s coming from, he’s just natural.”
Canadian Michael Woods (EF Education First) fell with 15km to race in the eighth stage to Saint-Etienne. Ineos riders Gianni Moscon and Thomas fell into him. The incident happened at the base of the final climb.
Ahead, moments later, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) attacked to regain the yellow jersey lead. Pinot, looking sharp as he has since the Tour began in stage one in Brussels, jumped immediately.
Thomas returned to the favorites’ group with other rivals including Kruijswijk, but Pinot was gone. It added to a good ride on the Planche des Belles Filles and in stage eight, it gave him a solid advantage.
“It was just a good thing to see on the bike. It was a really nice day of bicycle party,” Mauduit said.
“He’s doing a really great or fantastic first week, but this is just the first week. The route is still long.
“His shape is really good, obviously. You know, though, anything can happen every day. You saw what happened to Tejay van Garderen, so that can happen to any rider. Geraint Thomas crashed. We just have to keep calm and focus on what we need to do.”
Pinot won Lombardia in 2018 and in 2014, behind winner Vincenzo Nibali, he placed third.
“Very,” Thomas said when asked how dangerous of a rival is Pinot is in the overall fight.
“He’s been on the podium before. He’s riding really strongly. So a big threat.”
Some say Pinot could lose time in the stage 13 time trial, but he has won time trials before and been French champion before in the discipline. The sky is the limit for Pinot and the team with two weeks to race.
“We have no limit, we just want to archive the best possible,” Mauduit said.
“The win? It’s too early to talk about that. I think Geraint Thomas is still the number one favorite, and Thibaut is the number one contender. He’s good.”