Two days before the final stage in Rome, it was time for the monstrous queen stage of the Giro d’Italia. Heading towards the mythical Tre Cime di Lavaredo, in the Dolomites, the peloton overcame nearly 5,500 meters of elevation gain on Friday. After bravely defending his “maglia azzurra” at the start of the day, Thibaut Pinot found the energy to finish ninth on the stage, sixth among the favorites. Before the terrible “cronoscalata” towards Monte Lussari on Saturday, the Frenchman is in sixth place overall, 5’10 behind leader Geraint Thomas, and about fifteen seconds from the top-5.
“You needed to make the right calculations and have good legs”, Thibaut Pinot
The biggest piece for the end, or almost the end. After almost three grueling weeks of racing, the Giro offered its main course on Friday. Five climbs, including two of first category and one Hors Category, featured in the last hundred kilometres of stage 19 that tallied exactly 183. However, the splendid Tre Cime di Lavaredo were awaiting the riders at the end of this terrifying day. This day, Thibaut Pinot started it in a much harder way than he would have liked. While a breakaway of ten riders was already gone in the foothills of the day’s first climb, located after about sixty kilometres, the French climber had to accelerate. He first did it in the wheel of his teammate Jake Stewart, then on his own, to neutralize the hopes of Ben Healy, his runner-up in the mountain classification. “It was a tough stage but also a stressful one”, explained Thibaut. “We had pointed out the riders who should not go in the breakaway. There was a lot of pressure with the jersey left to be played. I knew that some of my competitors were motivated to fight for it. You needed to make the right calculations and have good legs because it was quite a start. Ben Healy went all in, didn’t do me any favour, and I left a lot of energy at the start of the race”.
Still in control, Thibaut Pinot brought the Irishman back, but it was only after seventy-five kilometres that calm returned for good. From then on, the bunch let the day’s breakaway take a lead of eight minutes at the top of Passo Valporala. In the iconic Passo Giau, the pink jersey group was reduced but without properly fighting. So much so that the fugitives were able to head to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the starting point of the final, with an advantage still superior to six minutes. “There were a lot of points at stake, and some in the breakaway could come back in the game for the jersey,” added Thibaut. Derek Gee actually got closer to 57 points from the Frenchman after the ascent of Passo Tre Croci. It was also in this climb that Bruno Armirail, after having bravely fought in the Passo Giau, was forced to let the pink jersey group go. Still up there, close to the big favorites before the final steep climb towards the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Thibaut Pinot tried to reposition himself several times in order to avoid splits. A few members of the top-10 were dropped due to the high tempo of the Ineos Grenadiers team, but it was only when Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas started to fight in the last two kilometres that the Groupama-FDJ rider was distanced.
“Thibaut finishes this Giro in a very good way”, Sébastien Joly
However, the Frenchman did not explode, since he reached the top in ninth place, which meant in sixth position among the favorites, only seven seconds behind Joao Almeida and Damiano Caruso. “I had to refocus on the final and not think about the efforts I had made compared to the others beforehand”, added Thibaut. “I am still satisfied with my day and my climb. Of course, without the efforts at the start of the race, it could have been even better, but that’s part of the race. In the end, it didn’t turn out too badly.” “The final was tough, and the fact that Thibaut took sixth among the strongest shows that he finishes this Giro in a very good way”, said Sébastien Joly. “Everything remains to be done tomorrow, but it’s still a good day. Thibaut remains in the blue jersey tonight and we will do everything so that he can keep it until Rome. Bruno fought well again today. Even if he lost a few places in the general standings, he showed that he was capable of making another step in the mountains. It’s a good lesson for him and he will be keen to do a good time trial tomorrow, just like Thibaut to secure a good overall”. On Friday, Santiago Buitrago won the stage, Geraint Thomas kept the pink jersey, and Thibaut Pinot not only stayed in blue but also gained a position in the general classification.
He now sits in sixth place, 5’10 behind the British leader but just seventeen seconds from the top-5. Everything will be decided on Saturday on the slopes of Monte Lussari (7.8 km at 11.2%), which will conclude a very particular 19-kilometre time trial. “I am reassured, but tomorrow, we can go for the top-5”, concluded Thibaut. “It’s going to be stressful until the end. I will have to set a very good time trial, perhaps the best of my life. I hope to recover well because I had a lot of pain in my legs today, but I think it’s the same for everyone”. As for the former pink jersey Bruno Armirail, he now sits sixteenth place overall.