Could France lose another home Tour contender to a foreign team?

Thibaut Pinot says he isn't ruling out leaving French team FDJ after this season

France could lose another Tour de France star to a foreign team if FDJ does not renew Thibaut Pinot, winner of the Alpe d’Huez stage in 2015, beyond this season.

Pinot’s current two-year contract expires with 2016. Although he says that he would like to stay with FDJ, he admitted that he is shopping around as well for 2017.

“Marc [Madiot, team manager] appears confident,” Pinot told L’Equipe newspaper today. “I see that he’s calm and so I’m also calm.

“I see myself continuing [into 2017], but I’m not going to close the door to others. I’ll study the offers that I receive. First, let’s see how this year unfolds. The last time I dealt with other teams, via agents, was in 2014. I signed again shortly after the Tour and since then, I’ve never been contacted.”

Pinot placed third overall in the Tour de France in 2014 behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and last year, won his second stage by escaping on the roads to the Alpe d’Huez ski resort. He celebrated in the white, blue and red colours of French lottery sponsor FDJ.

Watch: Thibaut Pinot win on Alpe d’Huez

If he were to join another team, he would join the ranks of Warren Barguil and Pierre Rolland who ride for a German (Giant-Alpecin) and American (Cannondale) team, respectively. French insiders say, however, that going abroad or new helpers are needed for their top talents to excel in the Tour de France.

“You have to have a stronger team to progress [in the Tour],” Cédric Vasseur, winner of two Tour stages and wearer of the yellow jersey, told Cycling Weekly. “We saw what Froome won because of his team, without Wout Poels and Richie Porte, he would have lost the yellow jersey on the Alpe d’Huez.

“The French structure needs to grow to support these riders. You can’t focus on winning the Tour de France if you don’t have that. The team need to sign a domestique to protect them in the Tour, men like Ian Stannard, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Vasil Kiryienka, those guys are top domestiques.”

Vasseur said it is harder for FDJ to sign foreigners because the team is sponsored by the national lottery and because high taxes make it even more costly to sign top cyclists.

“That’s the problem, the French have taxes. When they want a strong team, they need the money and have to pay the taxes. It’s not the same as Sky and BMC, they pay €1 million for a rider and that’s that, but in a French team, with the taxes, the same riders costs 1.5 million.”

France has one other grand tour hopeful, Romain Bardet, in a home team. He won the St-Jean-de-Maurienne stage and placed ninth overall last year, and is secured with French WorldTour team AG2R La Mondiale through 2018.

FDJ did beef up its team slightly for Pinot, who said that he likes the Tour route for 2016. Madiot signed Sébastien Reichenbach from IAM Cycling to join compatriot Steve Morabito.

“We were looking for a climber like me, someone who’s solid and continuing to progress,” Pinot added. “They are both from the Valais region, good humoured people that make me feel at peace.”

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