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ALGHERO, Italy (VN) — Several insiders have been whispering Thibaut Pinot’s name when asked about the Giro d’Italia, starting Friday in Sardinia, even if the Frenchman has yet to line up in the Italian grand tour in his nine-year career.
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Paolo Tiralongo, long-time helper for Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru, told VeloNews “Pinot” when asked about the first mountain stage to Mount Etna on Tuesday.
“We are going to get a reading of the favorites already,” Tiralongo said. “I’ve seen Pinot going well and I think the Etna stage suits him because he can hold his own on climbs and make many attacks. You must be ready because you are going to pay dearly if not.”
Etna comes after three days of racing and one day of rest and transfer from Sardinia to Sicily. But there is every reason Pinot, 26, can contend after three weeks of racing, from the south of Italy’s boot to the Alps in the north.
Pinot has won two stages in the Tour de France, including the summit finish to Alpe d’Huez, and placed third overall in 2014. And since he suffers in the heat, the Giro d’Italia might suit him better. Besides, he scored his first major victory as an amateur in Italy, the prestigious Giro della Valle d’Aosta overall in 2009.
“Why should we support him? It’s easy,” L’Equipe journalist Philippe Brunel said. “He’s clean, very clean, he’s honest. If it’s going bad, he’ll tell. If he’s good, he’ll tell you. He never puts the blame on anyone. He doesn’t race to be popular, it’s not his motivation. His true motivation is to be on the mountains in the air.”
Those words would be music to Marc Madiot’s ears. The FDJ general manager, known for his volcano-like eruptions and strong opinions, noted how this Giro is special not just for the organization.
“It’s the 100th edition, but also the 20th anniversary of team FDJ,” Madiot said. “We’ve been coming here to race even before it was a WorldTour event, not because we were obliged, but we wanted to come.
“And this year, for the first time, every stage is showed live on television in France. That never happened even when Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault were winning. Now, they will be all free to watch on public stations for the first time.”
Pinot himself spoke bluntly about the death of Michele Scarponi and his chances in the three-week Italian tour. He just came from the Tour of the Alps, where he won a stage and placed second overall behind Geraint Thomas (Sky). Earlier this year, he won a stage in the Vuelta a Andalucía as well.
“Time has flied since the Tour of the Alps”, he said. “It was complicated with the death of Michele Scarponi afterwards. I really appreciated him, and my morale was down for a while; it wasn’t easy to find it to train.
“I hope I’m ready, I’ve done everything to be ready here. I hope to be competitive over three weeks. It’s true that I’m coming to the Giro for the first time after two failures in the Tour for the classification, but regardless, I said before in last year’s Tour de France that I wanted to do the 100th Giro d’Italia.”
“He said and he meant it, he felt the death of Scarponi,” Brunel added.
“He’s not the strongest in the hills, not a sprinter, he’s not a time trial rider, even if he won the French championship. He has a chance to win this Giro, like Bauke Mollema, like all those riders behind Nairo Quintana, who is the favorite.
“Why support him? This is an honest cyclist. He has a relationship with the press, when he says he’ll meet you, he does. It’s as though he’s from a golden era.”