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The champagne will be flowing through France on Friday.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Team DSM) resuscitated long-sputtering French hopes with a respective stage win and GC victory at Tour of the Alps as the nation’s two long-heralded stage-racing stars shone after sevaral seasons in the shade.
Pinot won the wet and wild final stage into Lienz to close a chapter on a tumultuous 33-month spell out of the winner’s circle and put a salve on the deep sting of being denied within sight of the fourth-stage finish line just 24 hours earlier.
Just minutes later, fellow Frenchman Bardet hit the finish in front of classification rival Pello Bilbao and secured the overall stage-race honors for the first time since 2013 in his otherwise illustrious career.
Pinot’s gritty stage win over breakaway rival David de la Cruz couldn’t come at a better time.
Only Thursday, Miguel Ángel López overhauled the long-suffering Frenchman when a stage victory and the end of a 1,006-day winless streak, riddled by injuries and upset, dangled just meters up the road.
“I would like to be able to smile again one day, but I’ll be patient,” a disconsolate Pinot said after finishing second Thursday. “It would have been good to win today, to turn this shitty page and move on.”
As it turns out, it only took one day for Pinot to lift that new leaf as he counts down toward his first Tour de France start in two years.
“I was mad. This morning, I had the knife between my teeth,” he said after scoring a long-overdue win Friday. “Despite the rain, I only had one thing in mind – to win. I feel a lot of relief.
“I attacked on the last climb, I had a lot of little stresses so I’m happy to cross the line with my arms raised. I bounce back very quickly and feed on my failures. Today, I transcended; I felt neither the cold nor the rain. We’ll stop talking about my hundred days without winning. Next week, I will be at the Tour de Romandie and I hope to shine there.”
It was a desperately needed first GC win of the season for his struggling DSM team and a coup as his leadership role at the Giro d’Italia lies around the corner.
“It was super hard today, super cold,” Bardet said. “Today was the hardest day of the week, so I’m really happy to win this one.”
“We showed that we are a pretty strong team, I had Thymen [Arensman – also slated for the Giro, ed] at my side and we got one and third in GC, so it’s super nice.”
Like Pinot, Bardet was hyped as “the next big thing” of French grand tour racing through the middle of the last decade. Second at the 2016 Tour when racing with home team Ag2r-La Mondiale saw expectation hit an all-time high, but since then, Bardet struggled to hit the same stage-racing groove.
Once dubbed the future of French racing, Badet and Pinot seem, all of a sudden, back in the frame.
That’s why you can hear those corks popping.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) April 22, 2022