Pinot aims to win Tour de France with a flourish

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Thibaut Pinot is not simply aiming to be the first French winner of the Tour de France for 34 years.

For his Groupama-FDJ team and many cycling fans, his would be a victory for style over substance, for emotion over cold calculation, old-fashioned racing instincts over ‘marginal gains’.

“Everybody hates it when there is a team pulling in front and dropping everybody with the steamroller,” Pinot’s sporting director Philippe Mauduit said.

“Everyone wants to see attacks and counter attacks. Thibaut is one of those guys making things happen so people love him more.”

It is clear whose steamroller he is talking about.

The footage of Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ team boss Marc Madiot celebrating his victory on the Tourmalet with such force that you fear for his health says something about the contrast in styles between this team and Team Ineos.

Sir Dave Brailsford likes to portray his team as being one where everything is under control, every detail considered and possibility played out.

Groupama-FDJ is not like that. Madiot is an emotional man, sometimes to his benefit, sometimes to his cost.

Pinot looked superb winning on the Tourmalet and finishing second at the Prat d’Albis, but needed those results after being caught out in crosswinds on stage 10.

If Brailsford is the scientist, Madiot wants his team to be the artists.

“We don’t look at the (race) in the same way as Anglo-Saxon teams,” he said. “We’re a Latin team. Latin teams are offensive whereas Anglo-Saxon teams are more about managing efforts, measuring, calculating, managing…”

If there is a tone of derision in his voice, it is no surprise. Madiot has never been a fan of what was Team Sky, always happy to jump on any controversy and play to a French audience that quickly grew fed up of British dominance in their race.

Brailsford may insist he is “having fun” in the most unpredictable Tour in decades, but it seems more believable coming from Madiot.

The two-time Paris-Roubaix champion, known as “Mr 1000 volts” in his racing days, is relishing a wide-open race in which Ineos are clearly weakened by the absence of Chris Froome, unable to control it in the way they did in winning six of the previous seven editions.

“Teams like Ineos, like Jumbo(-Visma), they are about managing efforts – don’t lose too much time on the Tourmalet, take 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there…” he said with a sneer.

“For us, winning on the Tourmalet or Alpe d’Huez, it’s different.”

Pinot is different too, a rider you cannot imagine thriving at a team like Ineos.

The 29-year-old finished third in 2014, winning the young rider’s classification, but withdrew early in 2016 and 2017 and focused on the Giro d’Italia in 2018, wary of the intense goldfish bowl that comes with racing the Tour.

“Thibaut is a guy who loves nature, who loves to be with his friends,” Mauduit said. “To be three weeks over there with very few people, it’s not his thing.”

That could be seen as a weakness, but the team see little point in eking out an extra percent of wattage here or there if it is all lost on the mental side.

“Pinot is more about emotion than action,” Madiot said. “If I put him in too structured an environment, too organised, he is going to be bored and it won’t suit him.

“He needs a little bit of fun in the action and in the course to be the best. If I put him in a straitjacket it’s not going to work.”

So can he actually win? Sitting just 15 seconds behind Thomas, one minute 50 off Julian Alaphilippe in yellow as the race heads towards the Alps, he has every chance.

Given their two World Cup titles since 1998, the Tour could now be the biggest prize left for a Frenchman.

“It will be crazy,” Mauduit said. “French people are crazy, you know that.”

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