By Julien Pretot
ST ETIENNE, France (Reuters) – The prospect of a home-grown rider successful the Tour de France for the primary time in additional than three a long time began to take form on Saturday when Thibaut Pinot ended the primary block as one of the best of the general contenders.
The 29-year-old, third in 2014, has matured right into a world-class rider since successful the Giro Di Lombardia, considered one of 5 ‘Monument’ classics, final October and his aggressive but relaxed strategy to the Tour is paying off.
Pinot moved forward of defending champion Geraint Thomas and the opposite high weapons after being the one rider capable of comply with Julian Alaphilippe’s brutal assault on the final ascent of a 200-km journey from Macon.
He gained 28 seconds, together with eight bonus seconds, over his GC rivals to maneuver as much as third general, 53 seconds behind compatriot Alaphilippe who reclaimed the yellow jersey after ending third behind Pinot and stage winner Thomas De Gendt.
Pinot leads the 2 pre-race favorites Thomas and his Ineos group mate Egan Bernal by 19 and 23 seconds respectively.
The final Frenchman to win the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1985 and by no means because the finish of the 1980s has an area rider emerged as a extra credible potential winner than Pinot this yr.
“There may be strain clearly however the largest strain is the one I placed on myself,” stated Pinot, who deserted the race in 2016 and 2017 and didn’t participate final yr after failing to totally get well from a bout of pneumonia sustained close to the tip of the Giro d’Italia.
“I additionally do not need to disappoint my group mates who’re all working for me.”
Pinot, who has a love-hate relationship with the Tour having received a stage because the youngest rider within the race in 2012 but additionally skilled his most humiliating disappointments right here, is joyful to be participating this yr.
“Final yr I watched it on TV and it was not enjoyable in any respect. I spotted how necessary this race is for a French rider,” he stated.
The 2019 race has been effectively deliberate by his Groupama-FDJ group, who selected their eight riders to participate as early as final December
It allowed them to fine-tune their group trialing they usually acquired their reward within the second stage once they misplaced solely 12 seconds to Group Ineos.
“We’re extra revered within the peloton. We’re doing our job on the flat, we’re there within the mountains and immediately we’re precisely the place we need to be,” stated Pinot, who modified his race schedule to peak for the Tour.
“It was irritating to skip April and races just like the Tour of the Basque Nation however I knew it could repay.
“I arrived on the Tour decided to do the whole lot I might and we’ll see the way it goes.”
Pinot is now prone to head into the primary excessive mountain stage with big hopes of donning the yellow jersey in Bagneres de Bigorre subsequent Thursday.
“My profession aim was to win the Lombardia and phases on all three grands excursions. Since I’ve accomplished that I am extra relaxed,” he stated.
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