French hopes of winning its first Tour de France in more than three decades took a huge blow when Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) abandoned in tears early in Friday’s decisive climbing stage.
The popular Frenchman carried winning momentum out of the Pyrenees, but stepped off the bike with about 90km to go in the five-climb, 126km stage to Tignes. His FDJ team later tweeted: “Thibaut suffers from a muscular lesion on his left thigh. Yesterday, he finished stage 18 with a sharp pain and had troubles walking in the evening. His condition didn’t improve today.”
Thibaut suffers from a muscular lesion on his left thigh. Yesterday, he finished stage 18 with a sharp pain and had troubles walking in the evening. His condition didn't improve today, he just withdrew from the #TDF2019.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) July 26, 2019
“I did all I could,” Thibaut said long after the stage. “I believed I might have had a chance [of continuing], that it would pass. But unfortunately it did not. I was convinced [that I could possibly win the Tour], but unfortunately now I will never know. It will be hard to get over this.”
Sport director Philippe Mauduit, speaking with NBC’s Steve Porino on the road, said that the injury originally took place days earlier in the stage to Gap when Pinot tried to avoid a crash and struck his leg with the handlebar of his bike. The team kept tabs on the injury, and Pinot was able to ride with the other GC contenders in yesterday’s mountainous stage 18.
Team manager Marc Madiot said that last night Pinot had difficulty walking up the steps to his room at the hotel.
“But at the end of the night it appeared to be better. And this morning I was optimistic, but then we heard [in the stage] he was in difficulty …],” Madiot said.
In stage 19, Pinot was struggling to keep pace on the day’s early climbs. He pulled back to the medical car and doctors wrapped a bandage around his left thigh. Pinot faded off the back and grimaced in pain.
Teammates did not immediately sit up to help chase back, an indication that the team already knew its star rider would be in trouble.
Pinot dangled off the back, riding in tears, as his dream of Tour de France victory disappeared up the road.
Pinot started Friday’s stage in fifth overall, at 1:50 back, and had emerged as the strongest climber in this year’s Tour.
Pinot was poised to attack in the closing weekend of the Tour. In a reminder of how cruel professional racing can be, Pinot stepped off the bike and stepped into the team car after embracing teammate Matthieu Ladagnous.
TV cameras and photographers hovered around the fallen star. The Tour, meanwhile, pushed on. French hopes now fall totally on yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
After the stage, team manager Madiot shared his thoughts: “I have been a team manager for 23 years now. There have been many great moments, but it is not always in great moments that we get stronger as a team. It is in these hard moments too. We will come back next year with a determined team.
“We have to accept these difficult moments. It is a part of sport. I always have confidence in Thibaut Pinot, he is a great rider and always will be. He has given so much to the team, to his teammates, and to the team staff.”