It is on Friday, April 22, that Thibaut Pinot was definitely reborn. After more than two years of setbacks, and in the aftermath of a cruel ending, the Groupama-FDJ’s climber got up with the panache, as a champion, on the last stage of the Tour of the Alps. On the most tiring day of the week, the Frenchman again joined the breakaway, but got rid of most of his competitors with more than sixty kilometres remaining. Only David De La Cruz was able to follow him until the end of the stage, but in the sprint, nothing could prevent Thibaut Pinot from getting this long-awaited and liberating success. As for the icing on the cake, Michael Storer climbed to second place overall thanks to an excellent ride while Attila Valter eventually took fifth.

“Five minutes before the briefing, he was already focused”, Thierry Bricaud

We had left him with tears in his eyes, a few meters behind the finish line of the fourth stage, after coming very close to a liberation he had been chasing for months. The night passed in the peaceful Austrian mountains, and Thibaut Pinot returned more determined than ever to ward off bad luck on Friday. Only one hundred and fourteen kilometres made up the fifth and final stage, but a series of steep climbs and pouring rain were more than enough to make the day difficult. “I knew from the start that it was going to be a very hard day, but I had very good legs and I really like these conditions,” said Thibaut. “I was so gutted yesterday, and I had accumulated so much frustration, that I was only thinking about this stage since last night. I had so much zeal today. I was ready to fight. I had only one wish: to win.” “He knew he had missed a real opportunity yesterday, but that could also be a trigger,” added Thierry Bricaud. “We saw each other five minutes before the briefing, and he was already focused, ready for the fight. He was motivated, ready to go forward. It was a good sign. I saw Thibaut when he arrived at 19, I saw him grow up, and I know what it means when he’s like that”. Although the motivation was there, he also needed the legs after a tough ride on Thursday. However, when a fifteen-man group went away after thirty minutes of fighting, Thierry Bricaud did not have many doubts: “When the good move went, Julien [Pinot] told me: ”I hope that we are there”. I said: ”I don’t see what’s going on, but it’s impossible that he missed it: he hasn’t left the first five positions since the start of the stage”.

The rider from Melisey was indeed in the lead before tackling the first climb of the day. There, the leading group was already reduced to six men thanks to his pace and that of David De La Cruz. Eventually, those two broke away on the next climb and isolated themselves with more than sixty-five kilometres to go. “Nobody was close in GC, so the peloton let them go”, explained Thierry. “It was a very difficult stage, with a series of steep climbs and technical descents. On a hard stage like this, there is no need to stay with the riders of the breakaway who bring nothing”. The Frenchman and the Spaniard therefore took a gap, and constantly kept it between forty seconds and one minute thirty on their first chasers. “I found myself with De La Cruz, who was also very strong, and we worked well together,” said Thibaut. The two men made sure to fight for the day’s victory, and got together at the bottom of the last, very tough climb towards Stronach (3 km at 12%). At this point, a slight moment of panic occurred when the Groupama-FDJ rider got in trouble with his chain ring. The problem was quickly solved, although it wasn’t the only one on the day. “I rode the whole stage with a broken spoke,” Thibaut later explained. “Since it was only going up and down and the gaps weren’t large with the first chasers, we couldn’t do anything,” added Thierry. “We remained anxious for the whole stage, but it’s like Thibaut. With him, nothing is ever easy”.

“It will free me from a burden”, Thibaut Pinot

Once done with the mechanicals, the former winner of the Tour of the Alps finally decided to test his rival about two kilometres from the summit, meaning with twelve kilometres to go. The first accelerations did not make the Spaniard crack, but after yet another attack, Thibaut Pinot managed to break away. With a fixed gaze and the open mouth, he kept pushing and managed to enter the downhill with a ten-second gap. However, this was not enough to definitively drop David De La Cruz, who returned five kilometres from the finish for a final head-to-head towards Lienz. The two men then did not leave each other until the last, uphill 700 meters. The Frenchman kept his opponent along the barriers, and easily stood up on the pedals when the latter gradually increased the pace in the last 300 meters. Then, in the final curve, with just 150 metres to go, Thibaut Pinot easily took the outside of the turn and left behind his ultimate rival. His ultimate obstacle. A last look behind 50 metres from the line allowed him to make sure that the tunnel was indeed over. That light was finally shining on him. And that the victory was his again, almost three years later… “It’s such a relief for me to raise my arms, even more on the Tour of the Alps which is my favourite race,” said Thibaut. “It is something very powerful for me, especially after what happened yesterday. But I always fed on my failures… Each failure gives me more strength. A fire was burning inside of me today. I didn’t miss a breakaway; I gave my all the whole stage. It was raining, it was cold, but I didn’t feel anything. Nothing could happen to me.”

Thursday’s cruel disappointment was therefore followed by Friday’s magnificent resurrection, and everyone was aware of how much this victory meant. “It’s a real relief, because he spent so many difficult months, doubting,” commented Thierry. “It also proves that when you are a champion, you remain one. He was confident, he just had to put his last two years behind once and for all. Since the Nice stage at the Tour, everything became complicated for him, and it is almost a second part of his career that starts for him today. The chapter is closed, the forward gear is engaged, and we are off again to see a very good Pinot! He knows he still has great things to do, and he doesn’t lack motivation. Without being pretentious, when I knew he was in front, I was pretty sure he was going to do it. He had so much anger and will that he couldn’t see his chance pass once again”. “People will finally stop telling me about my thousand days or so without winning”, smiled Thibaut. “It will free me from a burden. I know that I am capable of winning good races again. It’s important to move on now, and to win more races. I want to dedicate this win to everyone who supported me. Today is also my father’s birthday, and I hope he will be happy with this gift.”

“An exceptional day”, Michael Storer

Thibaut Pinot also offered a nice gift to the team, which scored his second victory of the season on Friday. However, Thierry Bricaud’s troops also left Austria with other note-worthy results. On this last stage, Michael Storer proved to be the only one able to follow the final winner Romain Bardet and therefore came away with second place overall, while Attila Valter fought hard to secure fifth. “It’s incredible, it’s literally a perfect day for us,” said Michael on the line. “We couldn’t ask for more. In the final, I was pleasantly surprised to see many riders losing contact while I still felt good. I found myself with my two former teammates. It was impossible to take back fourteen seconds on Bardet. On the other hand, I knew that I could take a second from Arensman to get on the second step of the podium. I left it all on the line! My winter and my start to the season were difficult, I didn’t expect to be on the podium in the Tour des Alpes, so I’m really happy. It’s an exceptional day.“It’s a great satisfaction”, confirmed Thierry. “We had two riders in the top-10 this morning and we told ourselves to be ambitious. Michael likes these conditions quite well, and he showed it. Attila did a nice climb too. Putting two riders in the top-5, including one on the podium, in addition to getting the stage win, makes for a great week. Attila is now totally boosted and motivated, knowing that he is ready for the Giro. Michael finds his place in the team, he is improving and will now head to the Tour de Romandie, a race that also suits him perfectly. He will team-up again with Thibaut there”.

As the final icing on the cake, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team also won the team classification of the Tour des Alpes, after a last stage which saw Reuben Thompson take 20th place on the day and Lenny Martinez secure his top-15 overall (14th). A beautiful day, all over.

No comment