Thibaut Pinot, his team and his fans went through all the emotions on Sunday. A new Critérium du Dauphiné’s leader after Primoz Roglic’s withdrawal in the morning, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team’s rider found himself the target of all the attacks from the start. The French climber nevertheless appeared in control in the first part of the race before being dropped with 30 kilometers to go. He then bravely fought to keep his place on the GC podium. He eventually finished second, 29 seconds behind the race winner Dani Martinez, and can confidently look ahead to the Tour de France.
Until the very end, the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné proved to be astonishing. On Sunday, a few minutes before the start of the fifth and final stage, a first news already turned everything upside down: the yellow jersey Primoz Roglic himself would not start following his crash the day before. Therefore, Thibaut Pinot found himself as the provisional race leader. He did not wear the jersey but he indeed had the status, and he could expect a fierce battle on the 153-kilometer stage with eight climbs on the menu. And that’s what happened, straight from the start. “The day started off at top speed, with a peloton completely shredded after twenty-five kilometers of racing, and groups already away from each other by 30 seconds or a minute, told Philippe Mauduit. In the Col de Romme, it was already every man for himself. It started the day in quite a complicated way, but we expected it. It was almost inevitable given the route today”.
“I really didn’t want to give up”, Thibaut Pinot
Under pressure from the start by his main rivals in the general classification, Thibaut Pinot had to ride hard for a good hour and a half. “I got attacked from the second kilometer already,” explained the Groupama-FDJ’s leader. “From there, I had no choice but to be in the breakaway. Then, in the sequence of the Romme and Colombière climbs, it was non-stop attacks”. “The instruction for Thibaut was to try to let the team get back together after the first climbs,” added Philippe, “but the start was so hard that we never managed to gather again. There were too big gaps between the different groups and it came down to a fight between leaders early on. There were hardly any teammates up front except for Jumbo-Visma. The others were either lonely or with one teammate at max”. Thibaut himself saw Sébastien Reichenbach returning alongside him in the Col de la Colombière, while a duo Pavel Sivakov-Julian Alaphilippe got away in front.
From then on, the Swiss champion and Jumbo-Visma put some order in the favourites group, already down to about fifteen men but without Mikel Landa or Nairo Quintana. The gap even reduced to one minute with the leading men approaching the Domancy climb, thirty kilometers from the finish. Then some favourites such as Tadej Pogacar and Dani Martinez went on the attack and Thibaut Pinot was unable to follow. “I wasn’t in a great day, especially at the end,” he said at the finish. “When I tried to accelerate, the legs did not respond. When I saw them attacking, it was a big blow. It took me a while to refocus, but I really didn’t want to give up. Seb had done a great job all day, Julian [Alaphilippe] did a nice turn for me and everyone cheered me on. It really boosted me and I didn’t want to give up for them.”
“Thibaut really is back to his best level”, Philippe Mauduit
After losing quite quickly a minute to Pogacar, Martinez but also Sepp Kuss, Thibaut Pinot let the storm pass before regaining strength in the last twenty kilometers in order to fight for the overall podium, or even for victory. “He really showed that he has a strong mental strength, that he is able to fight even when he’s in big trouble,” Philippe said. “But we had no doubts about it, we know that is part of his qualities and his strength”. At one point, the French climber even got back to a – virtual- dozen of seconds of the overall victory, but he finally lost more ground in the final kilometers, crossing the line in seventh position, one minute behind Sepp Kuss and thirty-five seconds behind Dani Martinez. It did not prove to be enough to maintain the first position, but it did to get the Critérium du Dauphiné’s second place. “There is still some disappointment tonight but I did what I could with the legs I had today,” added Thibaut. “I really finished with my head, thinking about everything we’ve done this week.”
“Tonight, there is a bit of disappointment and satisfaction, concluded Philippe. Obviously, when you come so close to victory, you can only be disappointed. That being said, there are also good things we can raise. Results-wise, we hadn’t set any goals for this Dauphiné and I think everyone would have signed for a second place earlier this week. There was a Tour de France competition on this race and we saw that Thibaut was keeping pace with the best. This is one of the things to remember. He really is back to his best level and it’s interesting for what’s to come. He is well on schedule for his preparation for the Tour de France ”. “It sure bodes well, but I was still looking for a victory,” said Thibaut. “This week, I was mainly thinking about the Dauphiné, not so much about the Tour. It’s a pity but the legs are good and that’s the most important. Now, we’ll have to rest well before the start of the Tour because it’s been a really hard week and a lot of riders are very tired tonight”.