Just 21 years old, FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot impressed in the Critérium du Dauphiné, notably with second place on the final stage. After spending half of the stage on the attack, when caught on the final climb he was still able to lead the sprint in front group behind Joaquim Rodriguez.
Prior to this race he’s grabbed some other good results, notably a third place in a stage of the Dauphiné last year and winning the mountains competition in the Tour de Romandie in 2010 too. I’ve long kept an eye on Pinot, tipping him in the winter as a rider to watch for 2011.
He’s from the Vosges area of France, close to the river Rhine and beyond, Germany. It’s a land of forested hills, gurgling rivers, quiet roads and cold winters. Word is the cold builds up a big appetite and he enjoys dishes like fondu and raclette, non-pro dishes involving melted cheese. But there’s part of him that’s Parisian too, he’s a big soccer fan and supporter of Paris St Germain, the top league team from the capital.
Big brother is watching
He’s from a cycling family, although his father was a modest regional rider. Older brother Julien Pinot was an elite rider knocking on the door of the pro ranks before being diagnosed with a heart condition. Whilst Julien had to step down from the Espoirs scene, kid brother Thibaut started racking up results as a junior. Older brother started coaching the younger one, with Julien heading to university to study sports science and also becoming the coach of crack French amateur squad CC Etupes, from the town of Etupes. This was the team for Thibaut’s first and only year in the senior ranks. Thibaut proved to be one of the best amateur riders in Europe in 2009, notably winning the six day Giro Ciclistico Valle d’Aosta and the youngest rider to do achieve this too.
The mention of elder brother Julien Pinot isn’t just a side story, he is doing a thesis under the guidance of Frédéric Grappe, the sports science advisor of pro team FDJ so it was a logical conclusion for Thibaut to sign for FDJ. More so since as well as advice from elder brother, Thibaut has been formally coached by Jacques Décrion, FDJ’s team coach. Pinot’s been using an SRM power meter from the early days, backed up by frequent effort tests in the lab.
After attending FDJ training camps in 2009, he turned pro for 2010 with FDJ. He started at the deep end in his first year as a pro, with the Tour Down Under and then 65 days of racing, including several Pro Tour stage races. No grand tour but no surprise there since he was the youngest rider in a Pro Tour squad for 2010. “His greatest asset is his power of recovery” Julien told Vélo Magazine, adding “and his mental strength too“.
Those strengths come in handy. First, because Pinot sees himself as a stage racer – albeit with a predilection for the Tour of Lombardy – and the mental side is crucial. He went into the Dauphiné as FDJ’s team leader, with the likes of Pierrick Fédrigo and Sandy Casar told to keep an eye on him. That allow might make some nervous but he coped ok, although making two mistakes, first being caught on the wrong side of the split on the stage to Lyon and then not eating enough and blowing up on the penultimate stage. But people close to him say he’ll learn from these mistakes rather than just shrug. Similarly, time trialling is not his best point and he lost a little time during this stage last week too. But here’s there’s no complacency, there’s none of the “well I’m a climber, nevermind” talk, he’s on a mission to improve against the clock.
Well a grand tour was on the cards for 2011 but FDJ have fallen out of the top league and haven’t got an invite for the Vuelta. So it’s possible that Pinot rides the Tour de France although perhaps with the aim of retiring mid-way. He told Velochrono.fr yesterday that the team are thinking about July but he thinks its unlikely. He’s still young but it shows that if French teams want to bring on home talent then losing out on the top team status can be a brake on rider development.
Weight of a nation
Longer term he’s got to work on his power-weight ratio. Because if it’s good now, the risk is he carries the weight of a nation on his back, with French fans and the media keen to invest their hopes in him. Every year sees a new rider come to the fore in France and usually they retreat. Think of Remy di Gregorio, Pierre Rolland or Romain Sicard, each attracted big praise and have yet to live up to media expectations. The reasons are varied but this time, thanks to his mental strength and natural talents, it’s just possible Pinot keeps progressing.
Plus there are others to share the load, like Jérôme Coppel and Alexandre Geniez. Even at his current level Pinot’s got the ability to win mountain stages in important races.