This Saturday July 22, 2023, in his beloved Vosges massif, Thibaut Pinot did not taste victory. However, he experienced something much bigger. Towards the Markstein, in the last mountain stage of his last Tour de France, the Frenchmanused the energy he had left to make it into the breakaway and give himself a final chance to shine. In front of his supporters and a noisy, large crowd, which was mostly there for him, Thibaut Pinot put on a show. Another one. He even took the lead solo at the top of the Petit Ballon before the big favorites briefly reclaimed the top spots on the final climb. Seventh and most combative of the stage, Thibaut Pinot will remain as the main protagonist of a day that will stay forever. On the eve of the Champs Elysées, he is eleventh overall as David Gaudu is ninth.
“I had only this stage in mind for a few days, I couldn’t wait to be there”. Thibaut Pinot was aware that his real farewell with the Tour was set for this Saturday, in a twentieth stage full of symbols. It indeed started from Belfort, which also was the start city when he took his very first win in the Tour, back in 2012. When his story with the race did start. The loop therefore came to an end eleven years later in this penultimate stage of the 2023 Tour de France, which moreover took place “at home”, in the Vosges massif. Therefore, there was no question and no doubt. Thibaut Pinot was going to impact this day. However, it first proved necessary to get over the Ballon d’Alsace and reach the Col de la Croix de Moinats, after about fifty kilometres, before he could finally show himself. The “home boy” waited for his moment, and from then on, started chasing together with Valentin Madouas before enjoying a big pull from Stefan Küng, then in-between, ahead of the Col de Grosse Pierre. More determined than ever, Thibaut Pinot then made a sharp acceleration to join the five leading men, and theFrench champion did the same thing a few kilometres further. The blue-white-red jersey’s wearer then immediately rode for his teammate, who also spared no effort against a peloton that always remained just one minute behind since Tadej Pogacar was aiming for the stage win.
“I struggled to realize that all of this was for me”,Thibaut Pinot
Even though the breakaway was fully committed, the gap barely moved. So, from the bottom of the Petit Ballon climb, Thibaut Pinot asked Valentin Madouas to increase the pace. Then, he himself launched the attack everyone was waiting for, especially near the summit where a corner was dedicated to him. The Frenchman got rid of his breakaway colleagues, got a 30-second lead and was able to experience a climb as never before. “It wasn’t necessarily planned, but if I wanted to win, I had to attack early,” said Thibaut, still within reach of the peloton but filled with emotions. “It was incredible to fight for the stage win in front of this corner and this public”, he added. “It was packed during the whole stage. In the corner, I had plenty of goosebumps. It was incredible adrenaline, pure madness. It can’t be described. I saw some known faces, but there were so many people so I couldn’t see everyone. But they were all there, and I was lucky to be in the lead. This was maybe the last time I could experience this. I don’t know if many riders have already experienced what I experienced, but I struggled to realize that all of this was for me. I just wanted to say thank you and give a little emotion in return”.
“He will leave us something else”, Marc Madiot
His supporters, and the public in general, certainly got their fair bit of emotions on Saturday. Thibaut Pinot then reachedthe top of the penultimate climb of the Tour alone and then headed for the final one, that of the Platzerwasel (7km at 8%), preceding the finish by eight kilometres. Shortly after the first ramps, Tom Pidcock and Warren Barguil managed to join him, but above all, the fight between the GC favorites startedin the back and everything then became more complicated. Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogacar, Felix Gall quickly filled the gap, then logically broke away approaching the top. Still fighting, Thibaut Pinot remained at around thirty seconds but was unable to bridge across in the final portion leading to the Markstein. He thus got to the line in a second group and obtained seventh place on the day. “I did what I could, and I gave everything to win in front of my crowd”, he said. “Unfortunately, when Pogacar and Vingegaard want to go forthe stage, it’s hard for the others. I just lacked a bit of legs to hang on to the best, but I have no regrets and that wasn’t the most important thing today for me. I enjoyed this day, and it was wonderful. Today, it was about something bigger than the result. What I experienced was more than a victory.” What Marc Madiot, very moved this Saturday, also tried to sum up: “Eventually, the record list is just lines on a piece of paper. He does not have dozens of lines, but he will leave us something else”.
“I wanted to experience these last emotions, and I did experience them”, Thibaut Pinot
On this Vosges stage, Thibaut Pinot once again, yet again, did bring “something else”. Even his teammates could tell. “We knew it would be a memorable day, Thibaut made it historical”, claimed Quentin Pacher. “He did pure Thibaut and made us tremble one last time on his roads, and on the Tour. We all believed he could make it, and I kept the radio on the whole race to find out what was going on. It was crazy. I don’t know if a rider has already given us so many emotions in the recent past, and if there will be one in the near future. I also made the most of this day and we all tried to help him. Valentin and Stefan were strong, and we all fought to make this day remain, and it will remain no matter what.”Obviously rewarded with the prize for the most combativerider, Thibaut Pinot finally had the opportunity to stand on the podium in a most familiar setting. “I’m going to enjoy it, especially in this place that is so dear to me”, he said before the ceremony, with a tear in his eye. “I have a lump in my throat because it’s crazy to be there… These are my training roads, this is my favorite place. Finishing here is just incredible… I still close a chapter of my book tonight, and it’s more touching than I imagined. I wanted to experience these last emotions, and I did experience them today. They will remain etched forever.”
Before getting to the Champs Elysées tomorrow, Thibaut Pinot moved up one place overall, now sitting in eleventh position. Despite a crash in a downhill, David Gaudu was able to limit his losses on Saturday, also thanks to the support of Valentin Madouas, and is about to complete the Tour de France in ninth place.