The punchy French climber already finished on the podium in 2014 and was well-positioned to repeat that feat last year before an injured knee forced him to abandon on the penultimate stage in the Alps.
Pinot is hoping to remedy such memories this year and the entire season has been built around the Tour. This year’s mountain-heavy Tour de France appears tailor-made for his climbing chops as it is simply riddled with mountains. In a further bonus for the French hero, the race’s only time trial, an uphill test to La Planche des Belles Filles, is essentially in his own back yard and comes late in the race, something which always favors climbers.
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William Bonnett, David Gaudu, Stefan Küng, Matthieu Ladagnous, Rudy Molard, Thibaut Pinot, Sébastien Reichenback, Anthony Roux
Again, this French team once is built completely around Pinot, a natural-born climber.
Time trial specialist Küng has brought tremendous firepower to the team since moving from BMC in 2019. And while the team will not benefit from his immense engine in a team time trial this year, the Swiss powerhouse along with Ladagnous and Roux will ensure Pinot is in good company on the flatter stages.
Bonnet is respected for his versatility, capable of guiding Pinot on the flat stages while accompanying him at least mid-way into the mountain stages. And then there are Molard, Gaudu and Reichenbach, three respected climbers that will provide key support in the mountains.
Certainly Pinot has the legs to ride with the very best — he once again proved that in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. But he is prone to cracking under pressure and his Groupama – FDJ team, while vastly improved in the past two years, cannot match powerhouse squads like Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma.
At the Dauphiné, Pinot actually started the final stage in the race lead, after Primož Roglič dropped out as a result of his crash the day before. But Pinot could only really count on Swiss national champion Reichenbach to chaperone him in the mountains and it proved insufficient as he lost the lead under repeated attacks.
In the Tour, Pinot will also have the help of climbers Molard and Gaudu. But Gaudu has struggled to find his top condition since returning to racing after the coronavirus race stop and question marks remain regarding his true potential with the Tour de France only days away.
But Pinot is just one of those riders that is so blessed with natural talent that he seems destined to have a great Tour ride again someday.
While the 30-year-old is sometimes compared to eternal second-place rider Raymond Poulidor, Pinot has won stages in all three grand tours, not to mention classics like Il Lombardia. So before writing him off, remember that he is a proven winner. All of France will be cheering for Pinot this year, and if he makes it into the final week in the top five, a podium spot will be well within his reach.