Thibaut Pinot has announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2023 season. The goat-loving Frenchman will leave cycling to fulfil other desires, such as growing fruit and setting up a B&B.
It’s a hard job getting to the dizzying heights of this sport, it’s another talent to pull viewers along with a gravitational force rivalling Jupiter to experience the rollercoaster of emotions felt throughout a career.
Joy and heartbreak were more prevalent throughout the career of 32-year-old Pinot than most, and we’re heartbroken he’s calling it a day, so we’ve taken great joy in rounding up our favourite moments of his both on and off the bike.
5. Overcoming his fears of descending
A year after Pinot reveals his phobia of descending at the Tour de France, he wins the white jersey in Paris. Photo: Jean Catuffe via Getty
Aside from using stages as background noise and catching glimpses of Mark Cavendish leading out Bradley Wiggins on the Champs-?lys?es the year prior, I began to watch the Tour de France in its entirety in 2013.
That’s when I was introduced to Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman had already forged a name as an emerging star on the scene and looked set to be an eventual Grand Tour champion.
However, with the cautiousness of a new-born lamb attempting independence, Pinot would instinctively pull back from the peloton while descending during the three-week French race.
‘Some people are afraid of spiders or snakes,’ he said. ‘I am afraid of speed. It’s a phobia.’ It’s reported that a crash suffered as a junior led to this fear.
He abandoned that Tour de France before the start of Stage 16 because of a throat infection, and then spent part of the off-season driving a racing car at high speeds to help overcome his phobia.
He would arrive back at the Tour in 2014 and win the white jersey for best young rider.
His openness about his fear struck a chord with many, myself included, and that show of humanity has followed Pinot throughout his career.
It’s not that riders should be compelled to reveal their innermost struggles to the world, but he helped open the door for conversations surrounding mental health.
4. Il Lombardia, 2018
Pinot looks set to drop Nibali (and Rogli?) at Il Lombardia. Photo: Tim de Waele via Getty
In 2018, after winning Milano-Torino, Pinot formed a duo with Vincenzo Nibali to hunt down Primo? Rogli? at Il Lombardia.
While this is undoubtably a favourite for being his first Monument win, the manner in which he attacked the ‘race of the falling leaves’ makes it stand out even more.
He stuck with notoriously skilled descender Nibali through the twists and turns of the technical downhill section, carving in and out of bends at speed and holding his line with precision.
He looked a different man to the hesitant Bambi of 2014.
Eventually, after becoming frustrated with Nibali’s contribution to the race-leading move, he accelerated with 14km remaining and pulled out a decisive gap from the Shark of Messina.
Helicopter shots broadcast a flying Pinot in the final kilometre. One last turn of the head confirmed his solo status. He broke into a smile after almost six intense hours riding.
He was – and always will be – a Monument winner.
3. Vuelta a Espa?a, 2018
Pinot pushes up towards the finish of the HC climb Lagos de Covadonga. Michael Steele via Getty
Stage 20 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia was incredibly difficult to watch. Surrounded by his Groupama-FDJ lieutenants, the figure of Pinot sobbing on his bike struck a painful chord with viewers.
Suffering goes hand-in-hand with the sport of cycling to some extent, but it felt cruel when lingering shots of such a distraught rider captured the raw emotions of not only the illness he was struggling with, but the reality of slipping from third place at this late stage in a Grand Tour, to leaving the race.
He was hospitalised with pneumonia after the stage.
Fast-forward to Stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espa?a that same year. From the day’s breakaway on the queen stage, he dropped his rivals on the dramatic fog-covered Lagos de Covadonga to crest the summit finish first.
Like buses, Pinot’s victories suddenly arrived in quick succession. He won again a few days later on Stage 19.
Distancing Steven Kruijswijk, Pinot held off final challenger Simon Yates – who was content in his red jersey so didn’t challenge for the stage – to reign victorious on the day.
2. Bouncing back at the 2015 Tour de France
Pinot celebrates atop Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Presse Sports
Bouncing back from adversity is a theme here. It’s probably the best way to define Thibaut Pinot’s career.
After sliding down the general classification in the first week of the 2015 Tour de France, it was time for a different approach to his home Grand Tour.
He laid the foundations in the final week of the race with multiple top four stage finishes and a dramatic scene was set.
Stage 20 of the Tour. One last chance for a victory before the final day procession. In front stood the famed Alpe d’Huez, the monolith steeped in cycling history and lore.
Pinot dropped his breakaway partner Ryder Hesjedal with 6km remaining, all while enveloped in a swarm of bucket hats, flailing limbs and flags, and he ploughed on towards the summit like a raging bull.
Nairo Quintana fought off the maillot jaune contenders behind to try to catch Pinot, but it was too little too late. The Frenchman punched the air in celebration as he crossed the line. Victory.
‘I never gave up. I kept believing. I never thought withdrawing was an option,’ Pinot said.
1. Tour of the Alps, 2022
Pinot sits on the ground after finishing second on Stage 4 of the Tour of the Alps. Photo: Tim de Waele via Getty
Yes, never giving up. Even if it takes over 1,000 days.
Lining up at the Tour of the Alps in 2022, a chasm of time separated Thibaut Pinot from his last win. 1,007 long days since he rode to glory on the Tourmalet in 2019.
A solo attack during the closing kilometres of Stage 4 was a drawn out crescendo of pain. We could only watch as the peloton closed in and Miguel ?ngel L?pez escaped from its clutches. The Astana rider swooped past a weaving and exhausted Pinot to steal victory.
Pinot slumped to the ground. A shell of a rider. Completely empty. In tears.
But what a difference a day makes. The final stage was set up for fireworks in the pouring rain and boy, it didn’t disappoint.
Back in the breakaway, this time with Astana’s David De La Cruz for company and shrouded in mist, Pinot’s blue rain jacket shone like a beacon for TV cameras.
At points distanced but never dropped, he didn’t give up. Perhaps it was momentum from the previous day. Perhaps it was the knowledge that he could still challenge for wins.
Stuck together like glue for most of the final kilometre, Pinot took his chance and charged around De La Cruz, through the final bend and across the line.
Victory. Photo: Tim de Waele via Getty
1,007 days on from the Tourmalet, Pinot raised his arms in victory once again.
He never gave up. That’s a life lesson.
Special mention: His love of animals
Thibaut Pinot via Instagram
Not a cycling moment, but a lovely Thibaut Pinot story nevertheless.
It’s not uncommon for riders to seek fulfilling activities away from the bike. Some ski, others paint. Pinot lives on a farm in M?lisey with his goats, donkeys and cows.
He told L’?quipe on the announcement of his retirement, ‘Cycling has taken up a third of my life and now I want to focus on my second passion, animals and nature.’
He added that he wants to grow fruit on his farm, make honey and set up a B&B. He surely won’t be too pressed to find customers for that.
Kim.Goat via Instagram
Now we’re here. The final season of Thibaut Pinot as a professional cyclist.
That is unless he wins the French National Championships in Normandy – word on the street is he’ll do six more months to honour a bet with his teammates.
Dare to dream?