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Sitting shirtless on the side of the bed next to team manager Marc Madiot, Pinot, crushed by the disappointment, could only ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”
Pinot’s excruciating exit last week in stage 19 was too much to bear, not only for Pinot and Groupama-FDJ, but a nation as well. French hopes of its first yellow jersey since 1985 were scuttled within minutes last week, first with Pinot abandoning and then with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) losing the wheel and ceding the lead.
This week, Pinot is taking stock of what happened and what could have been. On Wednesday, team officials confirmed Pinot suffered a deep hematoma to his vastus medialis muscle over the knee. The recovery is 20-days’ rest, but for Pinot and the team, everyone is still wondering what could have been.
“That was the worst disappointment of my career,” Pinot told French TV. “I had the best form I’ve ever had in my career. To lose all of that in an instant was too much to bear.”
Yet from crushing disappointment also comes hope. Despite his forced departure, Pinot was poised to return to the podium and possibly even win.
“The best is yet to come for Thibaut,” team manager Marc Madiot told French media. “His best years are ahead of him. To be so close this year is something very positive.”
Pinot was on the ride of his life. Since joining FDJ in 2010, Pinot quickly revealed his GC potential, but it was only this summer that his true colors came shining through. Pinot won his first Tour stage in 2012 (and two more since) and rode to third overall in 2014. The future seemed bright, but he just as quickly lost his love for the Tour. Facing courses that did not suit his climbing capabilities against the dominant Sky block, Pinot only put the Tour back at the center of his ambitions this year.
In fact, with this year’s untimely exit, it’s his third consecutive Tour he did not finish.
This year’s climber-friendly route and new-found confidence drawn from solid performances at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, coupled with his victory at the Giro di Lombardia, helped reinvigorate Pinot’s Tour ambitions.
Back-room changes also helped, including the arrival of veteran sport director Philippe Mauduit, who brought experience and tranquility to the team car. The confirmation of French talent David Gaudu, 13th overall and second in the young riders’ category, provided critical support help deep in the mountains.
Pinot was rising to the occasion at every turn of the race. Despite the costly losses in the crosswinds and echelons in stage 10, Pinot roared out of the Pyrénées with a stage win and momentum.
Within days, everything unraveled on the side of the road in the French Alps. Unable to pedal, Pinot’s dreams turned into a national trauma. A few days past the drama, a different resolve is taking hold. Despite the disappointment and tears, Pinot and Groupama-FDJ leave the Tour more confident than ever.
“Now we believe and we can see that Thibaut can win the Tour,” said Groupama-FDJ sport director Yvon Madiot. “We worked methodically for nine months. Everyone reached a new level. Despite the disappointment, we can also take confidence for the future.”
Pinot is recovering now, and hopes to return to racing before the season is out. There’s no firm date on a comeback. All he knows is that next year — especially if the course is another one for the climbers — he will strive to convert his dream into reality. A nation is waiting.