Pinot puts Tour back at center of season

The 28-year-old Frenchman finished third in the 2014 Tour de France and wants to record another podium finish this summer.

Following adventures at the Giro d’Italia during the past two seasons, French star Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) puts the Tour de France back at the center of his season for 2019.

Team manager Marc Madiot says Pinot is a “new man” after winning the Giro di Lombardia to close out the 2018 season that saw its fair share of ups and downs for the 28-year-old Frenchman.

Pinot, who was third in the 2014 Tour, will take aim at the final podium in the French grand tour.

“I don’t want to yell out too loudly that I’m going to hit the podium, even though I really want to,” he told AFP. “You can be in the best form of your life and still finish fifth. The goal is always to do the best you can.”

Entering his 10th professional season, Pinot says he’s reached new maturity and experience to take a serious run at the overall. His team is setting its sights on the podium, though the climb-heavy course could put Pinot among the top favorites to try to topple Team Sky’s domination of the French tour.

Pinot showed GC promise when he bounced to third in the 2014 Tour — the lone edition since 2012 that Sky has not won — but struggled to meet expectations since then. He was 16th in 2015 and DNF’d in 2016 and 2017. After falling ill with pneumonia at the Giro last spring, Pinot skipped the Tour and raced the Vuelta a España instead, winning two stages and finishing sixth overall.

After hitting his stride in the Vuelta, he barnstormed through the fall racing calendar, posting ninth at the worlds and victories at Lombardia and Milano-Torino in Italy.

A more confident Pinot is riding into 2019 after those strong season-ending results.

“If I am in as good condition as I was at the end of the season, there’s no reason I cannot reach the goal [Tour podium] that we’ve set out,” he said.

Pinot remains one of the most tenacious riders in the pack, similar to Vincenzo Nibali in his ability to attack and turn the tide in his favor. Though he’s been unable to win a grand tour, he says victory is always the ultimate goal.

“I’m more and more consistent,” he said. “I’m now able to win when I am 100 percent. There’s a lot of talk about the GC, but stage wins and the classics success like I did at the end of last season are also very important to me. The ultimate objective is to raise your arms.”

AFP contributed to this report.