Thibaut Pinot really believed in the victory on Sunday, and so did everybody. Right after an unlucky day on the Tour de France, the French climber came close from experiencing the greatest of days. On stage 9, he managed to enter the breakaway towards Châtel. Later, he managed to remain in the mix for the win thanks to an impressive attack in the Pas de Morgins. However, Bob Jungels, who attacked beforehand, managed to stay away until the end. Thibaut Pinot eventually took fourth, but surely reassured himself. David Gaudu spent a rather calm day with the favourites and retained fifth place overall ahead of the second rest day.
The first long week of the 2022 ‘’Grande Boucle’’ came to an end on Sunday, at the border between France and Switzerland, after another stage mainly contested in Swiss territory. Most of all, the Tour entered the Alps. Before heading to a much-awaited second rest day, the riders were heading toward Châtel through a very tough route including the Col de la Croix and the Pas de Morgins in the last seventy kilometres. On the other hand, the first thirty kilometres were entirely flat. It therefore did not enable a breakaway to go. The selection was eventually made naturally in the first hills, and Thibaut Pinot then joined the moves. “The plan this morning was to put Thibaut in the breakaway, and the goal was to try to win the stage,” said Philippe Mauduit. “We thought that we would have a team solid enough at the back to protect David on this type of course. We could therefore give carte blanche to Thibaut, and the course suited him quite well”. After a fight of about fifty kilometres, the peloton finally decided to let a group of fifteen riders go, and six other men including the green jersey Wout Van Aert then bridged across. Thanks to a strong effort, Thibaut Pinot was up there indeed, but UAE Team Emirates immediately maintained the gap under three minutes because of Rigoberto Uran’s presence in the front.
“I’m happy to have the legs to fight”, Thibaut Pinot
The breakaway was therefore never able to really distance itself, and then hit the bottom of the day’s first big climb, the Col de la Croix, with a narrow margin. Three kilometres from the summit, or sixty-four from the finish, Bob Jungels attacked but almost none of his competitors tried to follow him. The Luxembourger crossed the summit with a lead of around twenty seconds, which he increased to one minute on the downhill over his chasers, including Thibaut Pinot. “I had the legs to follow when he attacked, but I didn’t really believe in this attempt,” Thibaut explained later. “The cooperation in the chasing group was good but not great. A lone man always goes faster in these circumstances, but I didn’t think we were going to lose 2’30. That’s the mistake we made.” After thirty-five kilometres of transition between the summit of the Col de la Croix and the bottom of the Pas de Morgins (15 km at 6%), the last real climb of the day, the leading man could benefit from a solid advantage. As for the peloton, it was only a minute or so behind the Pinot group. After following a steady pace in the first part of the climb, Thibaut Pinot eventually gave it a go nine kilometres from the summit. He first got rid of the weakest riders, then made another attack 500 meters later to go solo in pursuit. He still had two minutes left to close on Bob Jungels.
An unleashed Thibaut Pinot then took time back with each meter passing. The gap dropped to one minute six kilometres from the summit – fifteen from the finish -, and even to thirty seconds four kilometres from the top. However, the slopes eased down on the final part of the climb and the gap therefore remained between 20 and 30 seconds. “He should have maybe attacked a little earlier, but it comes down to details,” said Philippe. “He also had good climbers around him, and those climbers would not have collaborated with him afterwards. He had to go solo, and to go solo, he needed everyone to be really at the limit”. At the top of the Pas de Morgins, Thibaut Pinot was still about twenty seconds behind, which remained the gap after a small descent preceding the final ascent (4km at 4%) towards Châtel. On these slopes less suited to him, the Frenchman was not able to catch the leading man. He was also caught by two chasers in the last kilometre, thus settling for fourth place of the day despite a remarkable ride. “It’s frustrating,” said Thibaut. “If we had to do the race again, I would change a lot of things, but that’s racing…. Jungels was very strong. It’s obviously a pity, but we were 2’30 behind at the bottom of a climb which suited him. It would have been different with a harder climb, but I have no regrets, I really gave it my all. I understood at the top of the Pas de Morgins that it was going to be difficult, because he was still riding well on the rolling parts. The final was to his advantage. If I had known I wasn’t that bad, I might have attacked earlier in the climb, but it’s easier to say afterwards… I’m still happy to have some feelings back and to have the legs to fight. I can be quite serene for the rest of the race. I will rest well tomorrow, and the two most beautiful weeks are coming”.
“It’s an honour to have these teammates”, David Gaudu
Although he could not finish his day off at the front with a fourth stage victory on the Tour, Thibaut Pinot still climbed on the podium to receive the most combative prize. “I think Bob Jungels also did quite a ride”, he confessed. “I think I lightened up the race again. For many, there was probably no longer any suspense for the victory. My attack gave a bit of it”. As for David Gaudu, he consolidated his fifth place in the general classification at the end of an uneventful stage for the GC men. “It was a hard stage, but excepting the last kilometre which really hurt, the rest of the day was rather quiet in the yellow jersey group”, said the young man. “I expected a faster pace in the Pas de Morgins. Anyway, the team is going really well, there were still three of us when there were twenty guys left, plus Thibaut in the breakaway. It is an honour to have these teammates. We had a complicated day yesterday, we resumed on the good way today. We can hope for better later and be confident”. “It’s not bad for now”, added Philippe, “but we have to keep your feet on the ground”.