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Thibaut Pinot stood within striking distance of the yellow jersey and the 2019 Tour de France title, but it all slipped away – an episode that still lingers for the Frenchman and Team Groupama-FDJ on the eve of the 2020 season.
Pinot won the Tourmalet stage and moved closer to the lead as the days passed and the race entered the Alps. He sat fifth overall, just 20 seconds behind eventual race winner Egan Bernal (Ineos). However, he felt too much pain in his left thigh to continue and quit 36km into stage 19.
“No [it’s not a missed opportunity], it’s part of the sport,” team sports director, Philippe Mauduit told Cyclism’Actu. “It’s now part of the story.
“We are resolutely focused on the present and the future, even if it is of course an episode that marked us all. But you have to know how to bounce back, life goes on. Anyway, it’s not something negative, it’s just the law of life and the law of sport.”
Pinot finished third overall in the 2014 Tour de France behind winner Vincenzo Nibali. Over the years, he rode consistently in the Tour and in 2019, seemed to be pulling off one of his best rides to date. Bernal explained later that Pinot “was stronger.”
“Thibaut Pinot had an incredible Tour, he attacked from the first week on, and he looked for opportunities all the time, and until he was injured, he was the strongest in the mountains,” Bernal said.
“On the Prat d’Albis stage, I was behind him and I could not follow him, he was stronger than me and showed that he could have been in the fight until the end if he had not hurt himself.”
The Groupama team revealed that a crash in stage 17 to Gap caused “a muscular lesion on his left thigh” and “sharp pain.” He could hardly walk, but pushed on in his home race which has not seen a French winner since 1985.
Pinot and the team meet this week in Calpe, Spain, to prepare for their 2020 assault. With his “character” the team believes that more opportunities await.
“There is really no doubt because Thibaut has that strength,” Mauduit continued. “He has the character of the greatest, the character of a champion that allows him to rebound after each difficulty.
“This is what makes the difference between riders who are able to win races of very high level and others, it is this strength of character that pushes them to always question themselves and to always go further. To achieve their goals.”
The team, with young and improving David Gaudu, is planning for the season with the Tour six months away on June 27.
“The page is turned, you have to think about other things. With time it’s better,” said Pinot when the 2020 Tour route was revealed in October.
“It’s a course for me, but not just me, for all the climbers. I think it suits Bernal well, but it’s a course that I like.”