Coming into the race Pinot had won the final stage at the Tour of the Alps and was being touted as an outsider in Switzerland.
The prologue by his own admission was poor and the next day he lost time behind a crash with 20km to go. However, from then on he looked good and was regularly near the front when he needed to be. Supported by a Groupama-FDJ squad that was riding at his service, Pinot’s biggest test was always going to be the big mountain stage on Saturday, with six categorized climbs, and 4,000m of elevation gain. He placed fifth, which was more than respectable, but perhaps the most telling aspect of the day was what he said in a post-race interview.
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“It wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t a high mountain day, and it felt more like a medium hill effort to me so we tried to make it hard, in the end, to see what happened,” he said.
In the following day’s final uphill time trial he was a solid sixth, and seemed to be fully recovered from the previous week’s efforts.
Overall, Pinot’s Tour de Romandie was an encouraging outing for Groupama-FDJ, which has supported him through the last few years of ups and downs as he tried to find a solution to his inconsistent form.
Philippe Maudit, Pinot’s sports director, explained the significance of the improvement in his rider’s consistency after what has been a long period of self-doubt and moments of anguish.
“It has been such a long time since Thibault has been able to be the rider we know. Crashes, illness, injuries have happened each time he was coming back, so there was always something going wrong,” he told VeloNews.
“Since this last winter, we’ve noticed that he has a good base and he has been progressing regularly. There have been no dips in what he’s doing.”
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That progress is due to Pinot finally having taken the time to heal properly from his Tour de France exit in 2020. Over the 18 months since, Pinot has consulted various specialists, tried many solutions, and it was only toward the end of last year that he felt consistently good.
“Now we can see he’s capable of a regular level, so he’s slowly returning to his top shape, step by step. On Saturday’s stage, I asked him how he felt before the last climb and he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t made a big effort yet. Then I knew he was good as there were riders, good riders, being dropped. So we put riders on the front to make it harder. In the end, it was a headwind and Thibaut couldn’t win the sprint but it was good for him and the team to have a leader who is at his level again,” Maudit said.
And that’s what every cycling fan wants to see again, the return of the performances and emotions that the man from the Haute Saone has entertained us with over the years.