Thibaut Pinot begins his 2021 season on Friday when he lines out at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var as part of a Groupama-FDJ squad that will be led by David Gaudu.
The roads of the Var are familiar to Pinot, who won a stage atop Mont Faron in 2019, but he said that he would ride in a supporting role in the three-day race this time around. He has not raced since he abandoned the Vuelta a España after two stages last October, when he was still suffering from a back injury sustained in his heavy crash on the opening stage of the Tour de France.
“This race brings back very good memories. I’m happy to start my season here and pin a number on my back again,” Pinot said in a statement released by his Groupama-FDJ team.
“I’m not going there to play my own card, I’m there to help the team. My preparation hasn’t been ideal with this cold winter. I need to ride and rack up the kilometres. I hope to be able to help the team on this difficult route.”
Pinot has already confirmed that he will forgo the Tour de France in 2021, preferring to focus on the Giro d’Italia, where he placed fourth overall on his debut in 2017. He recently revealed that he had spent more than six weeks off the bike at the start of the winter and later received an out-of-competition injection of corticosteroids to treat the issue. He told L’Équipe that the experience had further strengthened his opposition to Therapeutic Use Exemptions in competition.
“When you have an injection or you use cortisone, the effects last for at least three weeks. Some do it just before races – out of competition, but the effect is there,” Pinot said in the wide-ranging interview. “I am completely opposed to all that, but cycling still operates at two speeds, I think.”
Winner of two stages at last year’s Vuelta, David Gaudu will lead Groupama-FDJ’s overall challenge at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var. The 24-year-old is set to have a free role at the Tour de France in Pinot’s absence, and Saturday’s finale at Fayence will be an early test of his form.
‘It’s a pleasure to be back in competition, especially in France,’ Gaudu said. ‘It’s a difficult race but I like it very much, especially since they are forecasting three days of sunshine. I worked well this winter, I have good sensations after the training sessions. We have a solid group, adapted to the profile of the event and are ready to work together.’
The cancellation and postponement of many early-season races have seen fields of considerable depth gather for events in France this month. The trend continues in the Var this weekend, with Tao Geoghegan Hart, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) among the starters.
‘The level of competitors is high but we have no lack of ambition for this type of competition,’ said Gaudu. ‘The important thing is to find the rhythm right away and give ourselves the means to go and win a stage. For this objective, the Mur de Fayence could suit me, it’s a stage that I have marked.’
Groupama-FDJ have selected a strong septet for the race, with Pinot and Gaudu joined by Rudy Molard, Valentin Madouas, Sébastien Reichenbach, Simon Guglielmi and Bruno Amirail.