By Jonny Long
The Tour de La Provence will be contested over four stages, including a finish at Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux. While the mystical French climb won't feature in the 2020 Tour route, the next edition of the race is already on the Frenchman's mind.
Groupama-FDJ are taking confidence from Geraint Thomas to fuel their belief Pinot can return better in 2020. The 2018 Tour champion's slow start to 2019 where he was overweight and suffering from illness faded away as the Welshman finished second on the podium to his team-mate Bernal.
"You just have to keep it right, keep a cool head and stay focused no matter what. A poor performance will not call everything into question, far from it. We know where we stand. We guess what could be our shortcomings. We are all rather naturally optimistic so we sometimes forget a bit that we could also have setbacks, but we are ready to endure some knowing that it will not, in any way, question what could happen in July."
"The only small uncertainty is he’s been out of racing since July. Although he is very much looking forward to the fight, we don’t really know where he will be in terms of race rhythm. That being said, we’re only in February. At the end of the Tour du Haut-Var, we can be sure that he will be in good shape and ready for the rest of the season."
Both Jumbo-Visma and Ineos have already announced their squads for the July race, with Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk set to provide fierce competition for the French as they eye a first home Grand Tour victory since 1985.
The 29-year-old was back on his bike after only three weeks rest, starting a long period of training over the winter months, but is now readying himself for the 2020 season.
"After his recovery, he had to get going again. The recovery was very gradual, and unlike last year, he did not do cross-country skiing. Maybe he didn’t want to. In any case, he focused only on his cycling practice and the very heart of his job. This led him to be back in shape quite quickly," said Groupama-FDJ's Philippe Mauduit.
The team is confident their star rider can go on to repeat his form of last year, having come so close to winning his home Grand Tour, as he is producing similar values to this time last year. "In Tenerife [at a recent training camp], he produced values similar to those of the previous year, which at the time enabled him to fight for the win in the Tour de La Provence and the Tour du Haut-Var," Mauduit explained.
"However, I absolutely don’t want to put pressure on him for these races. As I said, it’s been a long time since he raced. He will have to settle back into the bunch. We’ll really give him time for that.
"Just look at Geraint Thomas’s season last year. He was sick, was overweight, and was way behind in all races until the Tour de Suisse, where he planned to finish his preparation. Bad luck, he crashed out after two days. Despite all that, he was on the podium of the Tour," Mauduit said.
Thibaut Pinot is "already focused on the Tour de France", according to a sports director at Groupama-FDJ, as the Frenchman returns to racing at the Tour de La Provence, his first race back since abandoning the 2019 Tour through injury.
"We’re already focused on the Tour, of course," Mauduit said. "All the rosters, all the races chosen are made in order to unite a group, to make a group work together and to prepare for July. However, we must not lose sight that we are far from July...Obviously, we plan already, and the Tour de France is so competitive nowadays that we have to prepare it months and months ahead."
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