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Pinot avoided calamity for much of the day but was taken down by a massive pileup just as the peloton passed under the banner demarcating three kilometers to go.
A touch of wheels in the bunch saw Pinot and more than a dozen other riders cartwheel to the tarmac at high speeds. After remounting his bicycle, Pinot wore a grim face as he pedaled slowly to the finish line alongside his Groupama-FDJ teammates.
“It was a hard day, one of the hardest days of my life and I think it was the same for everyone,” Pinot said. “It was scary. It was like we were riding on ice.”
The opening stage became a treacherous ride of survival after unseasonable rains soaked the 156-kilometer route around Nice. The usually dry roads were coated in months of road grime and oil, and the moisture transformed them into slippery avenues of danger. Compounding the slipperiness were the painted lines on the road demarcating crosswalks and bicycle lanes.
Multiple top riders hit the deck during the race, among them Pinot’s countryman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuininck–Quick-Step), as well as Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett and Miguel Ángel López of Astana.
So nervous was the peloton that race organizers decided to take the GC finishing times at the 3km to go banner, eliminating the need for GC riders to ride near the front in the chaotic push to the line.
Indeed, the peloton has just passed under the banner when the pileup occurred, sending Pinot and others to the ground. Pinot emerged from the cash with his white racing kit in tatters. He scowled as he climbed aboard his bicycle and pedaled to the finish — a teammate waving at camera motorcycles to drive on ahead.
“On the television it is hard to understand,” Pinot said. “But to live it on a bike was very stressful and it was one of the most stressful days of my life.”
Pinot rides into this Tour with substantial pressure on his back. In 2019 he was among the strongest climbers in the race, and after 14 stages appeared destined to challenge Egan Bernal for the victory. But Pinot then suffered knee pain during the Alps and abandoned the race on the penultimate mountain stage.
Pinot left the race in tears.
Groupama-FDJ has built a team around Pinot’s push for the yellow jersey, and the French media has hyped his chances to win this year’s Tour, which features a mountainous route that caters to his climbing ability.
Marc Madiot, manager of Groupama-FDJ, said Pinot did not sustain serious injuries in the crash. The French star, he said, was upset but unscathed.
“Thibaut Pinot is upset, annoyed by the fall,” Madiot said. “They were under tension all day from the start. from the moment the rain made its appearance, so falling three kilometers from the finish when it’s over, it’s annoying, but it’s part of the life of the race.”