Thibaut Pinot has lamented the loss of fun at the Tour de France as he opened up on his decision to tackle this year’s Giro d’Italia, while he also hit out at cyclists who rely on TUE medication to compete.
Pinot explained that Il Giro represents a chance to get back to his best as a Grand Tour general classification leader.
"In 2019 I only had one bad day in three weeks in the Tour and I don’t want to live like that anymore, especially not this year," he said in a remarkably open discussion with L'Equipe.
"There is something that draws me to the Giro and I think I need that to bounce back. If I do well, I am back on track. The decision was made before the Giro course was announced, but seeing the course reinforces my choice."
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Perhaps part of the reason for choosing to ride the Giro is his opinion of the Tour, something that has changed with his growing responsibilities as the figurehead French rider for French team Groupama FDJ.
"There's no fun any more," said Pinot.
"In my first Tours we used to go to the village to hear the clown tell jokes 20 minutes before the start. Now, in that same moment, we're in the bus, getting briefed about which way to go around a roundabout and wind direction."
'I would never do it between two races' - Pinot hits out at TUEs in cycling
Pinot, who abandoned the 2019 Tour in tears from fifth in GC, also believes that, had he had a TUE [therapeutic use exemption], he would have been able to finish the race.
He had to have a corticoid injection during the off-season to try and repair a back injury that also saw him abandon the 2020 Tour de France after a crash. He is strongly opposed to the use of the drug with a TUE during, or near-to competition however.
"I have always been against it on ethical grounds but this was in the off-season, in the middle of winter," he said.
"I would never do it between two races. There is a month-long effect after an injection so even when you are not racing but the effect is still there. I am completely against it. A rider who needs a TUE to be able to ride has nothing to do on a bike. I don’t understand why guys do this."
Additionally, Pinot explained that his own experience of using a corticoid was immediate, remarkable and raised questions about races that he had failed to finish - in particular, the 2019 Tour de France when he retired injured two days out from Paris. Up to that point he had seemed to be in the form of his life with a real shot of challenging for the maillot jaune.
"When I see the effect it had on my back, I’m telling myself that there are some races I would have finished. My crash last year, the injury in 2019 [at Le Tour], my bronchitides, for example.”
Pinot also jokingly suggested that his team manager would be well-advised to sell him to another team.
“If I were a manager, I wouldn't like to have a guy like me as a rider. I sell that guy, I give him [away for free] actually!”
Will Pinot be reborn at Giro?
This really is a remarkable insight into the mindset of one of the sport's most engaging characters. Pinot has had the weight of French expectations on his shoulders for nearly a decade now, and this has clearly been a mighty burden to bear.
Hopefully, the Giro does represent a point of rebirth and a platform from which the Frenchman can rediscover some of the fun of racing and perhaps some peace with himself too.
In light of Tom Dumoulin's recent and well-publicised decision to step away from the sport, it's good to see a rider talk so publicly about the challenges he is facing both physically and mentally.