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The Tour de France 2020: A race designed for Thibaut Pinot

In-depth
15 Oct 2019
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The route for the 2020 Tour de France has been revealed and it seems perfect for home favourite Thibaut Pinot

Words Joe Robinson Photography Offside/L'Equipe

As ASO finished presenting the route of the 2020 Tour de France to the watching world, eyes immediately turned to the raft of hopefuls who had taken their seats in the first few rows of the Palais des Congres in Paris.

Four-time champion Chris Froome digested the question asking him what he thought of the route and replied: ‘I think it’s a brutal Tour – probably the hardest I’ve seen in the last five or six years at least.

‘It’s great, there’s loads of opportunities for the General Classification to play out and the main rivals to go head-to-head. That’s what everyone wants to see. It should be an exciting race, hopefully, it will live up to the same standards as this year.’

Swing across the room and the darling of 2019’s edition, Julian Alaphilippe, was fielding similar questions. His answer broke the hearts of the home crowd.

‘I will study the parcours in detail together with the team, but what I can already say is that it’s one of the toughest editions in recent years, with a demanding opening weekend in the south that will create some gaps and several gruelling climbs,’ he said.

‘On paper, there are a couple of stages that suit me, but I will know more once I do the recon. What I can tell you for now is that I won’t go for the General Classification, as next season I will have other goals.’

And behind another bundle of journalists, answering the same question, was Thibaut Pinot who responded, ‘It's a course that I like and suits me. There are very nice mountain finishes but also many stages in the Intermediate Massifs. The final stage at home, a climb I know by heart! I cannot wait to see it.’

Pinot, unlike his Gallic compatriot Alaphilippe or Anglo rival Froome, responded to the 2020 Tour route with confidence, anticipation and impatience.

And so he should, as with the 2020 Tour de France ASO has rolled the dice for a route designed to give a Frenchman the best chance of winning its home Grand Tour since 1985, and that Frenchman is Thibaut Pinot. A thoroughbred climber, Pinot can be and has proven to be unmatchable on long, tough mountain passes.

At this year’s Tour, he was the best climber in the race. He won the stage to the Tourmalet and was by far the best General Classification rider on the road to Foix.

He was punchy enough to escape with Alaphilippe to Saint-Etienne and was good enough to finish among his rivals in Valloire despite suffering from a leg injury.

Taking away the time he lost in the crosswinds to Albi, Pinot would have been positioned second on GC on Stage 17 to Gap and two minutes ahead of eventual winner Egan Bernal. Of course, injury meant that Pinot never reached Paris, but if he had, he could very well have been wearing yellow or at least pushed Bernal closer than any other rival.

Next year’s Grande Boucle will be the hardest since, well, this year. The brains behind the route, Thierry Gouvenou, said that after Stage 2 in the mountains surrounding Nice, ‘from there we hardly leave the medium of high mountains at all, that’s the general spirit of this Tour. You can say that 2019 and 2020 are a kind of pair.’

Next year’s Tour has been designed to ride like this year’s Tour and this year’s Tour was designed to suit Pinot meaning next year’s Tour should also suit the home favourite.

There will be eight mountain stages, four summit finishes and three further hilly days across all five mountain ranges that grace France (Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura and the Vosges). The most important day, arguably, seeing a final irregular kilometre to the summit of the Col de la Loze, a new climb that looks to suit Pinot’s climbing prowess to a tee.

There are only two stages on the west coast that look susceptible to perilous crosswinds and there is no racing in the north of the country where the cobbles are, two things that have derailed the 29-year-old’s hopes in the past.

Then there’s the matter of the only time trial in the entire race which finishes at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, Pinot’s home climb just 34km from where he was born and raised.

Obviously, so much else has to go right in order for Pinot to win yellow.

First of all, he needs to finish the race. Something he has not managed to do in four of his last six Grand Tours. It’s been a mixture of illness, injury and bad luck at the Tour and the Giro d’Italia that has seen him abandon on multiple times in floods of tears. Pinot’s resilience to three weeks of racing is often questioned, and rightly so. Sometimes it seems as if his body is just too human to take the punishment.

Then there’s the matter of his Groupama-FDJ team being no match for the might of Team Ineos or the ever-growing Jumbo-Visma. Sure, they’re as loyal to Pinot as any other, but having just David Gaudu as support in the mountains is no match to the likes of Froome/Bernal/Thomas or Primoz Roglic/Tom Dumoulin/Steven Kruisjwijk.

But in terms of route, all that ASO could have done to help Pinot ride to victory has been done.

And Pinot better take his chance in 2020 as for 2021, when the race debuts in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gouvenou has promised a ‘clean slate’ which probably means a return to more time trialling, the chance of cobbles in northern France and a route that does not suit a climber as pure as Thibaut Pinot.