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Tour de France

Martin, Pinot a study in contrasts during tense final hour on cobblestones

In stage 4 of the Tour, Tony Martin and Thibault Pinot each suffered late-race mechanicals, but the two saw drastically different outcomes

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During Tuesday’s stage 4 of the Tour de France, Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Thibault Pinot (FDJ) both suffered late-race mechanicals at almost the exact same time and place — with about 20km remaining in the cobbled stage. But the two riders reacted in very different ways, and that made all the difference.

Both men had started the stage looking for redemption after several days of disappointment. Martin had finished second in the opening time trial and then was kept out of the maillot jaune due to time bonuses — first when Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) took third in the stage 2 sprint, and again when Chris Froome (Sky) finished second atop the Mur du Huy on stage 3. Three days, three times second overall — and by less than a second after stage 3.

Pinot, who had come to the Tour as a GC contender after a surprising third overall finish last year, had seen his podium ambitions slipping away over the first stages. He conceded 1:28 on stage 2 when he was caught out in the crosswinds, then lost his nerve — and legs — on the run in to the Mur du Huy after witnessing FDJ teammate William Bonnet crash heavily. Pinot began stage 4 nearly three minutes down on Froome, in need of a miracle to be back in the GC battle.

Instead, he suffered a mechanical on the penultimate section of cobblestones with 22km to go, when he was no longer able to shift his rear derailleur. A long wait for a spare bike saw the 25-year-old Frenchman lose his temper, yelling first at teammate Mathieu Ladagnous and then aggressively dressing down an FDJ team mechanic.

A few kilometers later Pinot was off the bike again, waiting for a new bike, kicking the ground while on the verge of exploding at his team caravan vehicle during the second bike swap. Altogether, it was very public meltdown from a French rider during a key stage of France’s biggest race.

FDJ team manager Marc Madiot told the media that Pinot’s issues were related to a failure of his Di2 battery, though it’s more likely the connection between the battery and the rear derailleur rattled loose on the cobblestones.

”I had a mechanical, and then it went full gas,” Pinot said. “It’s a shame. I could have received assistance, but who from? Mathieu [Ladagnous], who is much taller than me? It’s sure that when you have car number 13, you must expect to wait for your car a long time.”

The FDJ team web site lists Ladagnous as 1.81 meters tall (5-foot-11) and Pinot as 1.8 meters (5-foot-10), although team bios are often inaccurate.

Unlike Pinot, Martin didn’t wait around for a team car. When he punctured — at the same time that Pinot was struggling with his bike — the German quickly swapped bikes with teammate Matteo Trentin, who is three inches shorter than Martin, but, according to Martin, runs a higher saddle position.

In addition to what must have been an awkward fit, Martin also had to contend with Trentin’s brake setup, which is the complete opposite of how Martin runs his brakes. Despite all of this, Martin rejoined the lead group with 13km to go, paced by teammates Julien Vermote and Michal Golas. As soon as they made contact, Golas went all out to bring Martin up to the front of the bunch, where he rejoined teammates Zdenek Stybar, Rigoberto Uran, and Mark Cavendish.

“Before the last cobbled section I had a flat tire,” Martin said. “The car was not there because he was stuck in traffic. Matteo was next to me, and he said straight to me, I should take his bike. I took it, but the only problem was that his seat position is a few centimeters higher, and his brakes are opposite to mine, so I had to remember to brake the other way around. So I was not just focused on my legs, I was also focused on the brakes. It was super difficult, I started riding just to finish the stage, to stay with the best, and to not lose time, because I know there are still a few stages for me.”

Of course, that’s not how it played out. With 4km remaining, Martin went from defense to offense. As the favorites marked each other, he attacked. He quickly opened up a gap that gave him not just the stage win but the first yellow jersey of his career.

“In the last 4 to 5km, everyone was together,” Martin said. “I was looking around, and no one was willing to ride on the front, so I just decided to take a risk and attack. I knew the final, I came here to see the finish last month, I was really focused on this stage, it was super hard, in a head wind, but somehow I made it. I think today I had the luck that I’ve missed the last days. Now all the pressure from the last days comes off, and I am super happy, and super thankful to the team. They supported me day by day, even though I missed the jersey for a few days. They again gave 100 percent for me. I tried to give it back, and somehow it happened. I’m so happy now for the team.”

Tuesday night, Martin and his Etixx squad were celebrating both the stage win and the maillot jaune, while Pinot and his FDJ managers were recalibrating. In the end, the Frenchman lost 3:23 on the stage and fell to 30th overall, 6:30 behind Froome, his sights surely turning toward stage wins and perhaps a run at the king of the mountains competition.