ALPE D’HUEZ, France (AFP) — Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) sees his victory atop Alpe d’Huez on Saturday as just reward for never giving up in an otherwise disappointing Tour de France.
The 25-year-old was third overall last year and had hoped to fight for another podium finish this year.
But he had a terrible first week, losing a minute-and-a-half on the windy second stage after being caught behind a crash, and then giving up more than three minutes after suffering mechanical problems on the cobbled fourth stage.
He lost more time in the team time trial before the first rest day, and immediately after it he cracked in the Tour’s first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, losing 10 minutes and seeing his overall aims disappear.
Instead of throwing in the towel, he doggedly chased opportunities to get up the road in pursuit of a stage victory on the lumpier days in the second and third week. Saturday, he finally got a stage win — his second career stage win at the Tour — after two near-misses.
“It’s a victory I fought every day for. Yes, I’ve had a difficult Tour but I never gave up and the team never gave up,” said the FDJ leader. “We were always at the front over the last two weeks.”
FDJ had a dreadful first week as William Bonnet crashed out of the Tour on the third stage. They also lost key mountain domestique Steve Morabito to another fall in the second week.
“For William we knew he was badly injured and it took time to recover from the shock, but after the first rest day we really got back on track and battled,” said Pinot.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the team and that allowed me to express my full potential.”
Pinot was in a breakaway on the 14th stage but got caught out playing cat-and-mouse with compatriot Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) sailed past the duo with only a few kilometers left in the day to steal the victory.
On stage 17 he was chasing Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) when he crashed on a descent, losing time — and his confidence in descending — before finishing fourth.
“I didn’t have any luck but that’s part of a career and part of sport — crashes, punctures, mechanical issues — it’s part of sport. But I never gave up and went on the attack every day,” said Pinot.
“I kept going to the end to win and that’s what counts.”
Having finished third last year he will end up 16th this time around, almost 40 minutes behind winner Chris Froome.
But having won his first Tour stage, he’s looking at the glass as half full.
“To come 16th overall can seem like a regression but I know I battled hard and I’m happy to have finished this Tour — it’s an important positive for the rest of my career,” he said. “Normally I ride to just follow the favorites and try to attack them but since the start of the Pyrenees, things went very badly and I had to change tactics.
“It was up to me to attack; sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I didn’t want to have any regrets in Paris and finally it all worked out and was worth the wait.”