Thursday morning’s edition of L’Équipe carried a roundtable interview with Bernard Hinault, Lucien Aimar and Bernard Thévenet, the only living French Tour de France winners, beneath the headline: “You never want to be the last Frenchman on the roll of honour.”
Since making his Tour debut in 2012, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) has regularly carried the weight of the home expectation to bridge the now 32-year gap to Hinault’s final triumph on the Champs-Élysées, but he arrives at this year’s race with a nation’s lonely eyes turned in other directions.
After building his season around a tilt at the Giro d’Italia, where he remained in contention until the final time trial and placed a fine fourth overall, Pinot reaches July in a novel situation: his prime objective for the year has already been largely accomplished.
“It’s a new approach to the Tour after a successful Giro, which was my big target this season,” Pinot said in Düsseldorf on Wednesday evening. “I’m more relaxed coming into the Tour this year, and it’s good to be in this situation.”
Having placed third overall in 2014, Pinot began each of the past two Tours with ambitions of the podium and perhaps even overall victory, but fell short on each occasion, placing 9th in 2015 and being forced out by illness a year ago. This time around, Pinot maintains that a high overall finish will not be a goal at all, given the toll extracted by his efforts at the Giro.
“I don’t think I’m capable of targeting the top five. I’m less fresh than I was at the Giro, I can still feel it in my legs,” Pinot said. “We’ll go day by day and look at things after La Planche des Belles Filles [on stage 5]. Flogging myself to finish 9th doesn’t really interest me so I’d fight for other things, like stage wins, in that situation.”
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