The cycling season will stop for a while, as from tonight, but the Groupama-FDJ cycling team ended this first part of the season on a high. In Paris-Nice’s seventh and last stage, Thibaut Pinot got his good legs back to net a very nice third place atop of La Colmiane. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) got the win as Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe) retained his yellow jersey. In the general classification, Thibaut Pinot eventually grabbed the fifth place and Rudy Molard the seventh.
“I’m happy I could have an influence on the race” Thibaut Pinot
Because of cancellation of stage 8 on Sunday, due to the threat of the Coronavirus, there were only 166 kilometers to complete this 2020 Paris-Nice, at the start of … Nice, this Saturday morning. This undoubtedly had an impact on the favourites’ moves in the very first kilometers of the stage, climbing up to the Col de Vence. A very serious group, including Thibaut Pinot and Rudy Molard, took shape for a few minutes before things got back to normal, more or less. The day’s breakaway, with six riders among which Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), could go away and the race then returned to a more traditional situation. Maximilian Schachmann’s Bora-hansgrohe logically took on the chase to protect the leader’s jersey and the gap never exceeded three minutes because of Alaphilippe’s presence in front. The six leaders eventually got to the bottom of La Colmiane, last climb of the day, with just one minute advantage. Relentless as ever, Thomas De Gendt was the last man standing from the breakaway, but he then had to give up, like the rest of the favourites, when Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) launched his decisive attack, four kilometers to the top.
Half a minute behind the Colombian rider, who proved to be as strong as on Mont Ventoux and the Col d’Eze in previous weeks, Thibaut Pinot took advantage of his good legs to put on a good fight with the first 4 riders in GC. Despite few attacks, the French climber had to wait for the last hundreds meters to get a nice, comforting third place. “It was a fairly fast and steady climb,” commented Thibaut afterwards. “There was quite a bit of wind in the first ten kilometers and there was not much we could do. In the finale, everyone was tired after the high pace we had all day, and Quintana was the best, like in the first races of season. Behind him, we tried to go for the best result possible. I’m happy to place third, it reassures me.” He also took advantage of his day’s performance to slip into the final top 5 overall. “At the end, it’s satisfying,” he added. “If I had been told that I was going to make fifth when we started Paris-Nice, I would have signed immediately given the bad feelings I had after the Tour du Haut-Var. I’m happy I could have an influence on the race today.”
“Thibaut is definitely improving” Philippe Mauduit
His teammate Rudy Molard was just slightly behind on the slopes of Colmiane, and still took tenth place on the line, retaining his seventh position overall and therefore repeating last year’s result. “The balance is good,” he also said. “We came with ambitions for the general classification with Thibaut but we still tried to keep two cards until the end. We fought well with the shape we had here. We wanted to leave the race with some confidence. I think we succeeded. Thibaut probably reassured himself today knowing that he finished with the best guys. We are not on the general podium, for sure, but we are still satisfied with this week of racing. In my opinion, Paris-Nice is one of the hardest races of the season, and we conclude it very tired”. Finally, our sports director Philippe Mauduit also wanted to be optimistic at the end this last day of racing before a while. “We saw Thibaut attacking in the finale, even if two guys finished in front,” he concluded. “It’s quite encouraging to see him get back to that level and able to try things like that. We noticed on this Paris-Nice that he is definitely improving, there is no doubt about it, even more if we remember how he did in the Tour de Provence and in the Tour du Haut-Var. I also want to point out the team’s performance on the first three stages, in conditions where we may have failed in the past: with rain, wind… They were combative, they fought hard and it is also interesting for the future”.
The future, precisely, is totally uncertain at the moment. All races on the calendar until early April have been cancelled already, or postponed, pending further news in the coming weeks. “Now, we are going to rest a bit and then work again to get back in shape for the second part of the season,” simply said Thibaut. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to take advantage of the shape we’ll have coming out of this race in the weeks to come,” regretted Rudy. “We’re going to take little break and see how it goes. We’re all racers, we all want to race, so it’s a pity of course, but we must comply with the directives of the authorities and follow the instructions that we are given. The most important thing is everyone’s health, not sport. When all of this will be over, we will start racing again, perhaps with a big schedule for the end of the season. We’ll still have to keep training and stay focused mentally.”