With apologies to David De La Cruz, there was only one winner the crowd wanted to see win in Lienz on Friday. Twenty-four hours after an emotional second place, Thibaut Pinot finally got the victory that he had been working so hard for, and radiated pure ecstasy as he crossed the finish line.
To show you how popular the Frenchman is, yesterday after he had collapsed after just falling short of the win, Geoffrey Bouchard of Ag2r Citroën approached the media scrum surround Pinot, and looked full of joy after he assumed his countryman had got the victory. After being told that it was not true, Bouchard's face fell. Everyone's face seemed to fall.
On stage five of the Tour of the Alps, by contrast, everyone was beaming (apart from De La Cruz and Astana). The Groupama-FDJ staff were over the moon to witness the return of their biggest star, the big show himself.
Pinot admitted post-race that he never thought he would get back here, back to his winning ways. He has promised so much during his career, and delivered too, but it looked like the difficulties he has had to endure had got the better of him.
Since a crash at the 2020 Tour de France, the Groupama rider has had a long journey back to the top, and Friday marked 1,007 days since his last victory, on the Tourmalet at the 2019 Tour.
"This is a very important win in my career," he said. "It’s going to be an unforgettable day, because I’ve worked so hard. I’ve missed it for so long, but the Tour of the Alps is my favourite race. I had a really difficult period, so this is really rewarding. It was a crazy day today."
Michael Storer, his Australian team-mate, secured second on general classification with his ride on Friday. Despite only being on the team this year, he knows how momentous a win this is for Pinot, Groupama, and French cycling.
"It means everything," he said. "Just joining the team I also understood how important this is to Thibaut. He has had a really, really hard time the past two years. I think he made a quote yesterday that he really wanted to put the past behind him, and I think Thibaut's back."
Pinot's second place on stage four actually galvanised him into action, he explained to the media. It proved to him that he had the strength, and the confidence, to try once again.
"Yesterday I was very disappointed, because I was so close to winning after so long," he said. "I always thought I would never get there. The second place made me aware that I could actually win. Today I saw the route, I saw the rain, the cold weather, and I thought to myself that I would breakaway as soon as possible. That second place yesterday made me aware that I still had some potential."
His emotions were very clear on Thursday, and they were again on Friday. Unlike others who seem almost robotic, or calm no matter what the result, Pinot actually shows how he feels, something he is aware of.
"I’m a rider who conveys both good and bad emotions," he said. "Sometimes I let people down. I try to show the way I am, being more natural. Perhaps people love the way I ride and the way I am, that’s me."
Despite winning for the first time in almost three years, and doing so in such an impressive manner - attacking early, staying in the break, building the lead, escaping with De La Cruz, and then sprinting to the win - Pinot still feels he has more to give.
He will target the Tour de France in July, and therefore has more time to build. Perhaps he truly can delight the French public once more, as he makes his comeback.
"I think there are still more things I can do," he said. "Physically I was stronger today than I was yesterday, and I think if I had the condition I had today yesterday, I would have won. Today was a glory day, I raced at a very high level. I’m sure there are still some things to fine tune to beat the best, but today was a really great day."
Whether he can still improve or not, as Storer said, Pinot is back.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1