In Châteaurenard, a town of 15,000 people, more used to pétanque competitions than to bicycle races, Thibaut Pinot is getting ready to start his season. In an hour, the Tour of Provence will start. The sound system plays accordion tunes before giving way to the voice of Daniel Mangeas, the historic speaker of the Tour de France until 2014.
On the walls, black and white posters of Raymond Poulidor recall his recent disappearance. Everything smells of cycling from the past and the decor seems to slowly melt into the sepia of a nostalgic image of the bicycle of the 1960s. Around 11:30 am, the descent of the Pinot bus, in its bright blue-white-red jersey from Groupama- FDJ, gives colors to the atmosphere.
Young children howl his name. The Franc-Comtois looks at the attendance, few in number – as often in the February races -, but appreciates this return in full light. “It’s nice to find the team bus, he savored. The last time I climbed in, it was not great. But all of this is behind me. “
First on the podium … from the start
“All of this” is his previous appearance in competition, closed in the angry tears of a cruel abandonment, last July 26 during the stage of Tignes. His mad dream of victory in the Tour de France was shattered in pain from an improbable muscle injury to the left thigh.
On the day’s stage, between Châteaurenard and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, promised to sprinters, Pinot is pensive. “I would have preferred something quieter because if there is wind, we can have a nervous and complicated race. It’s not ideal to resume my automatisms. ”
First in the hearts of the public, he is also the first to go to the podium truck to sign the sign-up sheet. No sooner has his name been pronounced by Daniel Mangeas, than the mayor of Châteaurenard rushes towards him to request a selfie. Pinot graciously complies with all requests. It’s so good to no longer cry in competition.
“I expected worse for a recovery”
A few hours later, it is recovered in a street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer. The stage has just been won in the sprint by Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic), but the main thing is elsewhere for him. Surrounded by David Gaudu and Anthony Roux, he seems calm. “I expected worse for a recovery,” he breathes. We were lucky over time because there was little wind even if the peloton was nervous at the end. There was no stress, even if we tried to avoid the fall in the last kilometers. The second step, this Friday, will allow me to see how my legs respond. “
Even if the truth of winter has little to do with that of summer, the two first category passes, between Aubagne and Les Crêtes, will give it a first clue.
Returning to his bus, Pinot passed a bar where two elderly people were watching him. “Look, isn’t Pinot there?” Asked one. “Yes,” replied the other. He’s the guy who’s going to win the next Tour! “