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Thibaut Pinot shares frustrations over ketones, TUE abuse in cycling

French star believes there is 'cycling at two speeds' in lengthy interview with L'Equipe.

There have long been hints of Thibaut Pinot and his growing frustration with his setbacks, the pressure to perform, and his uneasiness as a star rider in the world peloton. In a  revealing interview with L’Equipe, the French rider confirms all that and more.

Pinot hasn’t raced since abandoning the Vuelta a España, and lingering back problems are still not fully resolved. In a lengthy interview, the 30-year-old expressed dismay at today’s hyper-competitive cycling landscape, suggesting there is still a “cycling at two speeds.”

Pinot also revealed that after taking six weeks off the bike, he took corticosteroid treatments for a nagging back injury in the off-season, under the guidance of Groupama–FDJ team doctors and rules. Pinot said the problems were so extreme that it was necessary, but he voiced concern that there is still abuse in the peloton.

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“From an ethical point of view, I’ve always been against them,” Pinot told L’Equipe. “We were in a period of the winter, completely out of competition. I needed them to help my back to heal. I would have never have done that between two races. When you do that, there are at least three weeks of effects.

“Some do it right before races,” he continued. “You are ‘out of competition,’ but the effect is there. I am completely opposed to all that, and I still believe there is a ‘cycling at two speeds.’

“I saw the effect it had on my back,” he said. “There are several races that I could have finished. People criticize you for giving up, that’s the thing that hurts me most … I will keep doing things my way until the end of my career.”

Pinot, 30, also underscored his long opposition to TUE’s, the controversial therapeutic use of some banned substances under doctor’s orders, adding, “Anyone who is on a TUE has nothing to do with the bike. They’re not fit to compete. I don’t understand guys who race a bike on cortisone.”

Pinot also spoke at length about his back injury, his frustrations, and how he believes he can still shine at the Tour. Here are some key take-aways:

On skipping the Tour de France

Pinot, a Tour podium finisher with third in 2104, decided the best thing he could do is skip the pressure-cooker that comes with the Tour de France this summer. Following his tearful abandon in 2019, and his opening stage crash in Nice in 2020 that continues to bother his back, Pinot is changing the script.

“I’ve had such a hard time at the Tour,” Pinot said. “When you’re going well at the Tour, that’s where you want to be. If not, that’s the last place you wan to be. It seems now it’s only the Tour that counts.”

In 2021, he will target the Giro d’Italia, where he’s won a stage and finished fourth overall in 2017. It took some time to convince team boss Marc Madiot, but Pinot dug in and insisted.

“I hope the Giro will help me regain confidence in the grand tours,” he said. “There is something about the Giro that attracts me, and that’s what I need to be able to bounce back. I made the decision even before I knew the routes.

“I’ve come to the point where I don’t just want to talk about results,” he continued. “I want to be 100 percent healthy, and rediscover the joy and confidence. I don’t want to be the absolute leader anymore. If I am a leader at a race, my teammates can also race. I don’t want them to sacrifice just for me. I don’t want to go to the Tour and abandon again. I don’t want to disappoint the team again.”

Unsure of return date

Who didn't crash on the chaotic opening stage? Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat - Pool/Getty Images
Pinot injured his back in Nice at the 2020 Tour. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat – Pool/Getty Images.

Pinot recently returned from a training camp in Spain and said he was struggling with some of the harder efforts. A string of injuries in 2019 and 2020 continue to hamper his progress.

He is scheduled to return to racing at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var (February 19-21), but he said he’s not sure when he will race, saying his chances are “50-50” that he would race this month.

“At the moment, I am not ready to return to competition,” he said. “Everything was complicated with my back, all fall and winter. I thought I was on the right track at the end of the year, but then it would be terrible for a few days. I went to Spain to work on intensity, and I felt that I could not follow, that my back was overwhelmed as soon as I tried any strength or power.”

‘I can still do great things in the Tour’

Pinot also admitted he might not be the easiest rider to work with, but remains convinced he can be a factor in the next few years.

“If I was a manager, I would not like to have a guy like me as a racer,” he said. “I think I’m a bit different. I don’t even know how the coaches or sport directors put up with me.

“At the Tour, you must be 100 percent mentally and physically,” he continued. “You cannot have any doubts or fears. Otherwise, it’s already lost. I don’t know if I would have had any in 2021, but there is a chance I would have. Another failure like in 2019 or 2020, that would have been too much for me. I still think I can do great things in the Tour, I am convinced of that.”

Ketones and MPCC

Pinot, who races under the guise of the MPCC (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible), said there is a yawning gap between the teams inside the group and those that are not. The 10 WorldTour teams in the MPCC follow a stricter set of rules on TUEs, corticosteroids, and disallow the use of ketones, a supplement believed to be used by several WorldTour teams.

“Why do riders continue to throw their bidons on the side of the road, but in contrast, with the small vials of ketones, they keep them hidden in their pockets?” he said. “They say that [ketones] also help you lose weight. The hardest thing on the bike is not riding for six or seven hours, but it’s losing weight while keeping your power and strength.”

“We know that we do not all follow the same rules, which is unfortunate,” he said. “Between those in the MPCC and those who are not, it’s too much. It’s good there is an MPCC, but it shouldn’t even exist because everyone should follow the rules.”

Pinot suggested corticosteroids and ketones should be banned outright, but resigned himself to trying to stay true to his path.

“I don’t complain to authorities because it’s no use. I have no power. I am just a little piece in the puzzle,” he said. “That’s how it is, and it hasn’t stopped me from achieving good results. I am proud of the record that I have today. I prefer not to think about it too much, but sometimes you get a little fed up … I’ve always said I would quit when I could not longer win races. I’m still here.”