Pinot rolls back the years with early assault on Giro d'Italia mountains lead

 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) celebrates at podium as Blue Mountain Jersey winner during stage 3 at the Giro d'Italia
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) celebrates at podium as Blue Mountain Jersey winner during stage 3 at the Giro d'Italia

Over the years, Thibaut Pinot has hardly been an infrequent visitor to the post-race mixed zone, but after stage 3 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia, the French climbing star found himself in the media interview tent fielding questions as the leader of a Grand Tour classification for the first time in seven years.

Pinot darted out of the pack at the summit of the two classified climbs on stage 3, the third category Valico dei Laghi di Monticchio and fourth category Valico La Croce, to move into the top spot in the Giro d’Italia mountains classification.

Currently riding his final season, this was the first time Pinot has ever led any classification in the Giro d’Italia, and his first in a Grand Tour since he briefly led the mountains ranking in the Tour de France way back in 2016.

But the Frenchman explained that he both felt the need to boost the morale in his team after his low-key start to the Giro d’Italia and simultaneously because, in the countdown to retirement, he wants to fire off a few more salvos before he quits.

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“I wanted to make the most of this all because my days in the Giro are numbered, in other years, I’d maybe not have dared to do what I did today, but it’s nice to have tried to do this and to have gotten it,” Pinot told reporters afterwards.

“We’ll have to evaluate things a bit tomorrow [Tuesday] to see where we go from here because today was much easier to take the mountains jersey, and tomorrow” - when there’s a summit finish at Lago Laceno - “it’ll be much harder.”

One of several top names caught out behind the late crash on Sunday, losing 19 seconds, and after a time trial where he was a hefty 1:43 slower than winner Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) Pinot said that taking the jersey will "hopefully give the team a bit of a boost and re-start for the first week.”

“We didn’t have a particularly good start to the Giro, so it’s cool to be able to do this and lead a classification in the Giro for the first time in my career," he said.

“The maillot rose [Giro leader’s jersey] is a mythical one and on a level of its own, but this is still a very nice maillot to have to wear.”

Currently leading the mountains ranking by six points over closest pursuer Paul Lapeira (AG2R-Citroën), Pinot was honest about his options of fighting for the KoM jersey for the entire race, saying that while a spell in the lead was good to have, it wasn’t a top priority.

But he did not rule out returning to the battle for the mountains classification in the third week, depending on how the race was developing.

Rather than a good GC ranking, Pinot has come to the Giro looking for mountain stages, and he said he felt encouraged by his strong performance on the climbs on stage 3, even if they contained only a fraction of the level of difficulty of what is to come in the remainder of the Giro.

The first real climbing test for the Giro favourites comes on Tuesday at Lago Laceno, although, as Pinot said, given the final climb is only second category, it is unlikely to have a massive impact on the race.

“I was pleased with today [stage 3]  because we went up those last climbs very fast, and you had to be well-placed on the descent,” Pinot said.

“Tomorrow won’t be a massive GC fight even if some people will try to test themselves, and there are three kilometres at 10%, so it won’t be easy.”

“What I am expecting is a big battle tomorrow for the breakaway because the maillot rose is going to change shoulders, for sure.”