What’s next for Thibaut Pinot?
Groupama-FDJ leader faces the twin threat of another disappointing season and the rise in form of two top teammates.
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Watching Thibaut Pinot in the past few years has made for peek-between-your-fingers viewing as you brace for the next inevitable disaster to befall the sometimes hapless hero.
Sure enough, 2020 was not kind to the tragic Groupama-FDJ talisman.
This year’s whirlwind post-COVID calendar took any good fortune and good finishes that may have been headed Pinot’s way and dumped them squarely onto teammates David Gaudu and Arnaud Démare, both of whom enjoyed their strongest seasons to date.
Those contrasting trajectories leave questions over the next steps for 30-year-old Pinot.
While he rode out a strong preparatory block of racing when the season restarted, Pinot sparked out of Tour de France contention in the Pyrénées. One month later, his supposed comeback ride at the Vuelta a España lasted just stages before he abandoned, citing the nagging back pain that ruled him out at the Tour.
Meanwhile, sprinter Démare scooped four stages at the Giro d’Italia, a dominant effort that should replace his controversial victory at Milano-Sanremo in 2016 at the top of Google searches. After Pinot exited the Vuelta, his 24-year-old wingman Gaudu went on to enjoy his best-ever grand tour, taking two major climbing stages and finishing eighth overall.
The one thing that did go well this year for Pinot in 2020 was the news that his faithful manager and eternal supporter Marc Madiot handed him a contract through 2023, and with it, the assurances of his utmost confidence.
“Thibaut has just turned 30 but he is just coming of age,” Madiot said in June when he inked the deal. “He will now be able to make the most of his potential.”
Rolling into 2021, what’s next for Pinot, Démare and Gaudu?
The trio were all handed three-year contract extensions this summer, and with the needs of all three at loggerheads, Madiot may need to rethink his priorities in the very near future.
Pinot has abandoned four of his last six grand tours, with his last injury-free three-week race landing him a shrug-worthy sixth place at the 2018 Vuelta.
Gaudu has taken an opposite trajectory, looking better at every grand tour he’s finished in his young career. Away from the mountains, Démare has been left distraught having been bumped out of the Tour de France roster for two years in a row as his team goes all-in for GC, and his bumper haul at the Giro this fall proved a slap in the chops of his team heads.
The 2021 season could be a make or break for Pinot.
“He has the means to bounce back and get the great expected results,” Madiot told French television after his captain flamed out of the Vuelta. “I’m not saying he’s going to win the Tour de France, but he’s got it in his legs … I still believe he can win the Tour de France.”
I’m no gambling man. But if I was, I’d put a few hard-earned pennies on Pinot being the first name of the Groupama-FDJ team sheet for the 2021 Tour. Where Gaudu and Démare will get their grand tour opportunities? Who knows.
No matter which grand tour Pinot starts next year, he needs to score a strong result in order to prove he can compete across three weeks and won’t forever be dragging the albatross of injury and misfortune around his neck.
Madiot’s utter confidence in his leader will only last so long. Gaudu is ready to step up and take the reins at the top of the team. Alternatively, Démare is straining at the leash to go to the Tour with a sprint train built around him.
Groupama-FDJ may have no choice but to change its Tour de France tack if Pinot doesn’t deliver soon.
“Maybe it’s a turning point of my career,” Pinot said after slipping out of contention at this year’s Tour. He’d better not have said it too loudly or Madiot may have heard.