There is a little bit of Thibaut Pinot in all of us. In an era of Grand Tour racing where riders can often tap up the mountains metronomically like robots, their mouths set into thin lines, their emotions hidden behind pristine lycra and oversized sunglasses, Pinot offers a refreshing, brave display of humanity. He tells us that cycling is, in fact, very difficult. And that when someone is sitting on your wheel refusing to pull a turn, it is, in fact, very annoying. And that when you find your frustration building it is, in fact, very hard to keep it bottled in. And that when you try your very hardest, and you still do not win, it is very sad indeed.
The Frenchman’s intentions in stage 13 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia were clear from the off. In a stage that was shortened to just 75 kilometres after the organisation invoked the UCI’s extreme weather protocol, Pinot came out fast of the blocks, one of the key attackers on the first climb of the day, the Croix de Coeur. Soon, he formed a breakaway with four other riders: Einer Rubio (Movistar), Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) and Jefferson Alexander Cepeda (EF Education-EasyPost) and Valentin Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën Team.)
Even then, when the race still had at least two hours until it would reach its conclusion, Pinot rode like a man with a point to prove. He simply could not settle into a rhythm, repeatedly getting out of the saddle with his teeth gritted to try and up the pace. Gee of Israel-Premier Tech even turned to Pinot at one point and asked him to keep the pace smooth, beseeching him to work with his companions rather than to try and attack them. The Groupama-FDJ rider shook his head, perhaps believing that Gee didn’t really understand: Pinot needed to win today, he was desperate for it.
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When the small group crested the climb and the roads were laced with gravel and slippery ice, surrounded by sheets of white snow, Pinot pushed on. He took risks on the corners, leaving many onlookers forgetting that this was a rider who once said he hated descending. It seemed like Pinot would risk it all today for another Grand Tour stage win, for another taste of what it is like to be the best, to be the rider who comes out on top just one more time.
The 32-year-old’s longing for this success became almost hard to watch on the final climb of the stage. He was already irritated with his…
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