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‘Back on track:’ Thibaut Pinot using Tirreno-Adriatico to rediscover climbing legs

French star tiptoeing back into the limelight with hopes of hitting peak form later this summer.

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FERMO, Italy (VN) — Being close is good enough for Thibaut Pinot right now.

The French rider is tiptoeing back toward the nose of the peloton following a mid-season break last year to nurse a sore back.

So far, the Groupama-FDJ star is doing what he can against the searing pace at Tirreno-Adriatico with superstars Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard setting the tone.

“I am happy that I can compete again against the riders that I used to,” Pinot said Friday at the start of stage 4. “It’s a nice feeling, and I hope I am back on track to be the same rider that I used to be.”

Pinot was in the mix in Thursday’s uphill battle, crossing the line 18th in a group of chasers at 12 seconds behind winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

That’s not quite on the front line, but it’s a sign that he’s coming closer to being among the top-flight elite of the bunch.

Pinot told reporters he is no longer feeling back pain or discomfort when making hard efforts on the climbs, the most encouraging sign for the popular French rider.

“I want to keep progressing day by day,” Pinot said. “I have a good feeling in the race right so maybe I can try something Saturday to test the legs.”

Last year, Pinot was forced to take a mid-season stop due to ongoing back troubles dating back to the 2020 Tour de France. He stopped racing in April and did not race a grand tour in 2021.

Once a consistent challenger for grand tour podiums, Pinot has struggled since the drama of the 2019 Tour, when he was forced to abandon when a podium or even possible victory seemed to be within his grasp.

With the ever-present pressure that comes with being a French rider in the Tour, Pinot sometimes struggled with the weight of expectations.

Things came to a boil in 2020 in an opening day crash on wet roads in Nice. Though he pushed on to finish the Tour, the hard effort seemed to exacerbate underlying issues. By last spring, it was obvious that he would not be ready to challenge for the Giro d’Italia as planned.

A steady start to 2022 sees Pinot slowly regaining fitness and confidence.

It’s likely he will race the Tour de France again this summer under team orders, though Pinot always has a preference for the climb-heavy Giro.

Pinot hit third in the final stage at the Tour de Alpes Maritimes in February and is using a tough week here at Tirreno-Adriatico to regain top fitness and race speed.

“Perhaps it’s a little too early to speak of victory,” Pinot said. “I am counting on the coming weeks after coming out of this Tirreno-Adriatico race.”