“The Tour remains the main goal”

Last time we heard from him was just over a month ago, when he took third atop of La Colmiane in Paris-Nice. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has been increasing. It is therefore from his native Haute-Saône, where he takes care of himself and his farm, that Thibaut Pinot brings us his first feelings to the Tour de France’s postponement at the end of the summer, talks about the crisis’ difficulties, sportingly and humanly speaking, and reveals more about his life in the countryside, close to nature and animals.

Thibaut, the Tour de France has officially been postponed to new dates, from August 29 to September 20. What was your reaction?

I was of course very happy but not extremely surprised. The Tour is supposed to go through my village and a stage start is planned ten kilometers from here, so there were rumours and some news in the newspapers. There were two options: from late July to mid-August or from the late August to mid-September. I learned quite early that the second one was more likely. As far as I’m concerned, I only hoped that the Tour could take place before the end of the season, that’s all. Honestly, for us riders, these new dates don’t change much. The ones being more affected are the spectators, the children, who should have come to see us on the side of the roads.

“The enthusiasm for the Tour will be at least as strong as in other years”

Do you fear it could be a bit less popular?

There will inevitably be fewer people than usual, but I’m sure there will still be a lot. When you go through a village or a city, everyone comes out to watch the Tour de France passing, no matter what. I have no doubt that the enthusiasm for the Tour will be at least as strong as in other years, if not even stronger, due to the situation we are going through and how much people are looking forward to it.

Now that it has been postponed, are you optimistic it will indeed take place?

We know very well that the coming weeks will be decisive. At the end of May, I think we will definitely know if the Tour takes place or not. I am neither worried nor pessimistic, but we will simply see how the situation evolves. In any case, I don’t think the Tour will be postponed again. If it can’t be organized on these dates, it will simply be cancelled, probably like the rest of the season, because that would mean that the crisis is not over. We are aware of this possibility, it is in the back of our minds, but we try not to consider it too much.

Does this two-month postponement change your plans?

No, the Tour remains the main goal for me. Especially since there will be the world championships, which I like very much, a week later. The new dates don’t change my course. Also, even if it can still be hot at this time of the year, it has nothing to do with July, and I can’t deny I’m fine with it. It is one thing less to worry about. On the other hand, all the best riders will be at the start of the Tour de France, I am pretty sure of it. But I don’t know if it means that the Tour will be more difficult. It will depend on how everyone handles the crisis. Some riders might struggle to manage their energy or mental freshness during the lockdown. Everyone is in the same situation. No one really knows if he will be able to be at 100% on the Tour, and I include myself.

“I suffer in silence”

Do you think the build-up for the Tour will be complicated?

Yes and no. In the end, it’s a bit like preparing for the Vuelta. Personally, I can build on my experience of 2018. After having been side-lined a long time following the Giro, I did the Tour of Poland at the end of July and went on to race la Vuelta, which turned out ok for me (two victories of ‘stages, 6th overall, editor’s note). Everything will depend on the program we’ll be able to do ahead of the Tour. We also are all looking forward to return training on the road. For me at least, it’s a hard situation. I suffer in silence, but I would rather have a lesser condition when it will be time to go out than to mentally wear myself out on the trainers. It isn’t something I like and it has nothing to do with the feelings we usually get on the bike. I still do it so I can still say I’m riding, but it isn’t part of my preparation for the future. Virtual platforms amused me for 15 days but I’m done with it. Now I watch series or something else to keep me busy.

This break occurred few weeks after you returned from a long time without racing…

It’s not easy for me. I was just coming back after a six-month break, which is a lot. One break is already hard to cope with. I had a hard time getting back to level and I’m afraid I will have to fight even more after this new break. Will the 3 months I’ll have to prepare for the Tour be enough? I hope so, of course. But for me, it’s certainly more annoying than for other riders, because it’s my second long break in six months.

Didn’t your first races enable you to get back on track?

Surely things were getting better and better, especially towards the end of Paris-Nice, but I wasn’t at my level nonetheless. I could feel it. Ok, I managed to be third on the last day at the summit, but if we talk about feelings, that was not good at all. I probably would have needed a little more work with the Tour of Catalonia, maybe even the Tour of Basque Country, to bring me back to my best level. In that sense, this break is a pity for me.

“I still find it hard to talk about cycling in general”

However, you may know better than others how to get back on your feet in such circumstances?

Sure, I’ve had a few experiences like this one. Besides, I’m not worried at all at the moment. I’m pretty calm about the situation; I don’t panic because I’m doing only an hour and a half on trainers a day, that’s not what excites me. I know that from May 11, I will get back to it seriously and do my best to be at 100% on the Tour. Will it be enough? I don’t know, there is no guarantee. The body will give answers that I don’t have yet. But I certainly hope so.

Did the Tour announcement bring a new energy to the team?

Actually, not really. First, I think everyone was expecting it more or less. Second, we are still well into the quarantine phase. Personally, I still find it hard to look to the future. We are going through quite a difficult time, and so is my family. I still find it hard to talk about the Tour de France or cycling in general. I think it’s the same for my teammates. We will still have time to motivate ourselves for the Tour. Rudy [Molard] also gave a very good example: it’s like we were at Il Lombardia and that we were already motivating ourselves for La Marseillaise. There’s no rush … Right now, everyone is doing their best on the trainers. Some stand it quite well, others a bit less, but everyone is doing the right thing. In my opinion, it’s only when we’ll become real cyclists again, riding outdoors rather than virtually, that we’ll really be able to talk about cycling and goals. In any case, we are extremely lucky to have such understanding sponsors. We are really relaxed about our situation, we have no fear. In this rather difficult time, it is important to know that the sponsors are behind us.

How were the past few weeks for you?

It was difficult. Both of my parents got sick from the virus, and my father still is, 25 days after he tested positive. There have been ups and downs. It’s not easy. I’ve been taking news every day, but it’s a very strong virus, more than it was initially said. My region has also been very affected, so we know what we are talking about here… As for the quarantine, it hasn’t changed much for me. Even when there is none, I do not move too much from home apart from shopping. What I may miss is going to the movies or eating out from time to time, but you can live without it. From a personal point of view, I experienced quarantine very well. I am fortunate to live in the deep countryside, with my pond and my fields nearby. I don’t have to complain, I’m quite lucky.

“For a month, I haven’t been bored for a single minute”

What does your daily life look like these days?

I’m keeping myself quite busy. I do my training every day, I take care of my house, my small farm, I take time feeding my animals. I’m a little bit like a farmer, but without the pressure, only with passion. I also take care of the manure, I built a fence that I wanted to build this fall … Eventually all that takes some time. What I usually did in October, I do it now. Above all, it allows me to clear my head. In the end, the days are very filled, and for a month, I haven’t been bored for a single minute.

What does farmer Pinot’s cattle look like?

I have four donkeys, two cows, ten goats and ten sheep. That makes it almost 30 animals, which I don’t exploit in any way. I never sold or killed any of my animals. They are more like pets to me. When I’m at home, I like to be surrounded by animals, and luckily I have a lot of land to put them on. I am also fortunate to live in a small hamlet of a handful of houses where the neighbours are also quite happy to have animals around their homes. When I’m away, they take care of them and feed them, along with my parents. In the end, it’s a job for everyone.

Despite your location, do you still feel the stressing atmosphere of this crisis?

We are absolutely not disconnected from the virus. It has affected many people here, whether in my own family but also among my neighbours. At the beginning, we tried to follow the news to find out what was going on, but we gradually got away from it, because we were told something different every day … I don’t want to listen to everything that is being said.

“It feels good to take a real break”

If there were ever a need, does the current context strengthen your lifestyle choice?

I like where I live. There are obviously pros and cons to living here, and I have often been told “you live in a lost region, this or that …”. Today, everyone would like to be in this lost region, where you can enjoy the fresh air and the sun, that’s for sure. It is true that I’m an hour and half away from the airport and an hour from the TGV station. These are the cons, but here is where I built my little paradise. I’m fine here and after my career, my life might look like the quarantine. I don’t see myself moving much. I’m quite a homebody. Everyone makes his life choices, and this is mine. I always thought of living here, I never had the slightest desire to move elsewhere. I have a few plans for my post-career and I’m already starting to prepare some things now.

Will you miss this daily routine once life and the season will get back to normal?

Let’s say I will have fully taken advantage of the time I didn’t expect to have this year. And then, once the training will resume, I will certainly put on the hours on the saddle, but I also know that late afternoon, I will be close to my animals again. I don’t worry about that. It doesn’t bother me too much either when I go on a three-week race, because we get into a bubble and we forget the rest a bit. Actually, when we’ll be on the Tour in September, we will simply know that we are on the Tour, not that we are in September. Ultimately, the most difficult is when I am in altitude camps, especially at the start of the season. After a few days, I miss my life here and I can’t wait to get home.

How do you contemplate the coming weeks?

The advantage with quarantine is that I no longer count the days. It feels good to no longer know what day it is. I also don’t have this countdown to the departure for the next race, which usually automatically starts as soon as I come back home. It feels good to have a real break, it probably hadn’t happened to me since the age of 15. I’m now waiting for May 11 to go cycling in the Vosges, hopefully. Here, I could do routes without a single car and without meeting anyone. But even if I have as much risk of being charged by my cow in the morning as of falling off my bike, I stay in my garage. Many people ask me why, as professionals, we can’t train outdoors. I don’t have a definite opinion, but we need to lead by example without asking ourselves too many questions, because if we get back on the road, everyone will…