Marc Madiot has insisted that sentiment wasn’t a factor in his decision to select Thibaut Pinot for the Tour de France in his final season as a professional. The Groupama-FDJ manager announced the first five names of Tour line-up on Tuesday, when he also confirmed that sprinter Arnaud Démare would not make the final cut.
"If Thibaut is coming, it's because he's physically competitive. Not because it's his last year," Madiot told Ouest-France, adding that Pinot's immense popularity in his home country had not been a consideration.
"We really tried to ignore all that. I didn't want to lean on things like, 'The public wants it, etc.' What I wanted were sporting guarantees. Only that."
Pinot placed fifth overall at last month's Giro d'Italia, winning the king of the mountains classification. On the final day in Rome, he confirmed his desire to ride the Tour, though Madiot sought assurances about his rider's recovery from his Italian expedition before confirming his selection.
"I think it would be a professional mistake not to take Thibaut to the Tour," Madiot said. "I wanted us to let the euphoria of the Giro die down, because when you're coming off a good result, you always say to yourself, 'I want to get back out there and smash it!' Then a few days later, as fatigue sets in, you can quickly feel the weight of the efforts you've just made. But we were all reassured. The doctor saw it too."
When Pinot announced his retirement in January and indicated his desire to ride the Giro, it seemed as if he was keen to avoid the Tour in his final season. The Frenchman has won three Tour stages over the years, and he placed third overall in 2014, but he has also endured heartbreak at the race, most notably when he abandoned while within touching distance of overall victory in 2019.
"At the start of the season, there was no question of him taking part in the Tour. When we drew up his programme in December, we didn't talk about the Tour, but about the Giro," Madiot said. "Personally, I imagined him doing the Giro, the races he liked, and then we'd finish gently."
As the season got underway, it became clear that Pinot had other ideas about his final months as a professional. Rather than wind down gently towards retirement, he seemed eager to rage against the dying of the light.
"What changed everything was that he didn't see his last year as an early retirement. It was anything but a farewell tour," Madiot said. "He's a bit like the Rolling Stones: every time you see him, you think it's the last time, then you go back again the next time."
David Gaudu, fourth overall a year ago, lines out as Groupama-FDJ's leader at the Tour, with Pinot setting out in a supporting role, though Madiot suggested he would enjoy a degree of freedom to go on the attack.
"He's done a lot of Tours de France where he was under pressure," said Madiot. "Now, he wants to do the Tour like he did the Giro."
While Pinot was confirmed for the Tour, Démare has been left out of the line-up and the sprinter has indicated that he will not remain with Groupama-FDJ when his contract expires at the end of the season.
"Financially, it's going to be complicated," said Madiot, who expressed regret at having to leave Démare out. "When it came to making this choice, I couldn't be overly emotional. I had to put together a team in good conscience, to make it as effective as possible."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.