Thibaut Pinot pursued his quest until the end. Eager to leave the Giro on a high, the French climber once again hit the front on Thursday towards Val di Zoldo, in stage 18, to finally get that long-awaited win. And once again, he came very close to his goal. In the final, the Groupama-FDJ rider got rid of all of his breakaway rivals, with the exception of the Italian champion Filippo Zana. A sprint decided the outcome of the stage once again, and Thibaut Pinot had to settle for second place, just like in Crans-Montana. Disappointed but not discouraged, he however got the “maglia azzurra” back and climbed to seventh place overall. Friday, the queen stage of the Giro towards the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is on the menu.
On Thursday, a fabulous trilogy in the Dolomites started on the Giro d’Italia. Before a spectacular mountain stage featuring more than 5400 meters of elevation gain towards the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and a terrible “cronoscalata” on Monte Lussari, stage 18 seemed like an appetizer. A rough appetizer though, since it included three big climbs and about 4000 meters of elevation gain all the way to Val di Zoldo. On the other hand, the peloton had to cover thirty kilometres before hitting the first climb, the Passo della Crosetta. “We expected a very fast start with a lot of teams motivated to attack before the climb”, explained Sébastien Joly. “We had decided to always counterattack, which the guys did well. This made it possible for the bunch to come as a whole at the bottom of the climb. We did well in the first part of the race and Thibaut was then able to enter the right breakaway that went with strong guys”. “To hope for a stage victory, you need a lot of circumstances,” added the Frenchman. “The first of them today was that the breakaway shouldn’t establish itself before the climb. I was lucky it turned out that way, and then it was my turn to step in.” Very quickly, Thibaut Pinot showed his ambitions in the first ascent of the day, but the bunch did not let him. The Groupama-FDJ leader had to attack three times to finally distance himself from the peloton, along with Derek Gee, Marco Frigo (Israel-Premier Tech), Filippo Zana (Jayco-AlUla) and Aurélien Paret -Painter (AG2R-Citroën).
“I had a lot of fun”, Thibaut Pinot
At the top, he took first position and forty points for the best climber’s jersey, then Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Vadim Pronskiy (Astana) bridged across to the front group. “I would have liked to go with Thibaut to help him, but they would not have let me do it, I have to be realistic”, said Bruno Armirail, seventh overall on Thursday morning. “At the top of the first pass, there were only about fifteen of us left in the peloton. The pace was very hard, then it came back together a bit”. Behind the seven fugitives, the peloton stayed just two minutes away for a long time, before letting the gap increase through the fifty flat kilometres leading to the final climbs. “It was a nice breakaway, with Warren, Aurélien, who are guys I like and who aren’t afraid to make an effort,” said Thibaut. “Even the riders who were a bit weaker were pulling. Guys rode without asking themselves too many questions, that’s the racing I like. I had a lot of fun today.” Thibaut Pinot even came close to the virtual pink jersey as he approached the penultimate pass of the day, the Forcella Cibiana. The peloton however started to accelerate in the back while the breakaway remained together, and the Frenchman pocketed forty points again before heading to the last two climbs.
Tackling the climb to Coi with about fifteen kilometres to go, Thibaut Pinot still faced five competitors. However, in the steepest ramps, the climber dropped them one by one. With the exception of Filippo Zana. The Italian champion held his wheel to the summit, and the duo then raced down a short downhill before the final two-kilometre climb to the finish line. The battle for the general classification started among the favourites, but the gap was still way enough to fight for the stage victory. Thibaut Pinot briefly tested his final rival, but they entered the last kilometre together for a decisive two-man sprint. The Frenchman took responsibility with 200 metres to go, but fifty meters from the line, the shadow of the Italian champion came next to him, and then passed him. This is how, for the second time in less than a week, Thibaut Pinot had to settle for second place. “In the sprint, I might have made a mistake. I launched a bit early, but I still have less regrets than last time”, he commented later on. “I didn’t have exceptional feelings, and to win, I need to have a very great day. I had a good day, but I was missing a little something to drop Zana. With more confidence, I might have launched later, and I might have done it. But it’s easy to say afterwards… I lost again in the sprint, but it’s a little less frustrating than last Friday. I gave everything I had.”
“My Giro is really not over”, Thibaut Pinot
Also, Thibaut Pinot did not come out completely empty-handed from this new day out front. Despite the obvious disappointment of another missed opportunity, he got back into the best climber’s jersey and gained six places in the general classification (now 7th, editor’s note). The way he did it also gave him a brief smile. “If someone had told me two days ago that I could have fought again for a stage victory in the Giro, I would not have believed it, because I was really not well”, he explained. “It was important for me to be able to fight for a stage victory. I had fun today and I can be proud of my day. I’m taking back this blue jersey which represents me well and which I deserve, I think”. Yet, he will need to really fight for it tomorrow, on a stage that features two first category climbs and one HC climb. “I will take stock on Saturday evening, not before”, warned Thibaut. “Tomorrow there is another big mountain stage, perhaps the toughest of the Giro. I have to defend this blue jersey and to secure a good place overall. Now, it’s up to me to recover well and get a good result. My Giro is really not over”. On Thursday evening, Thibaut Pinot is 4’43 behind leader Geraint Thomas and less than a minute from the top-5. Bruno Armirail once again fought hard on stage 18 and just slipped to eleventh place overall. However, the trilogy has just begun.