Thibaut Pinot made a surprise declaration from the Groupama-FDJ 2023 team presentation, telling L’Equipe that he intends to retire at the end of this season at the age of 33.
“It’s a decision that I’ve carefully considered over the years,” Pinot stated in a post by his team on social media.
“I’m excited by the new things I’m going to be able to discover after my career, but I’m just as excited to race during this final year.”
The charismatic Frenchman finished on the podium of the Tour de France in 2014 behind Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-Christophe Peraud and gave his country hope of regaining the top step of the Grand Tour. But illness and injury plagued Pinot. He was third in the general classification of the Giro d’Italia in 2018 when he fell ill and was hospitalized with dehydration after abandoning.
At the 2019 Tour, Pinot was in contention for overall victory when an injury to his leg forced him into a tearful abandon in the Alps on stage 19. Since then, he’s taken to stage-hunting and going off in breakaways, frequently animating the race and he won the most aggressive rider prize on stage 9 of the Tour de France last season.
Fans can expect no difference in this final season. “I’ve rarely been as motivated at the start of a season and I want to end on a high,” he said. “I do everything and I’m going to continue to do everything to achieve the best results possible.”
The Frenchman’s career has been one of the highest highs and lowest lows, with soaring mountain victories and agonizing defeats with emotions that reached through the television screen and into viewers’ hearts.
His climbing prowess and panache was first put on major display in the 2012 Tour de France when he attacked with fellow Frenchman Tony Gallopin on the Col de la Croix on stage 8 and then rode solo for 10km to victory to the ecstatic cheers of his country. He finished the Tour in 10th place overall.
After finishing seventh overall in the Vuelta a España in 2013, Pinot returned to the Tour de France and made his GC bid on La Planche des Belles Filles, missing out on the stage win at the hands of eventual race winner Nibali but getting enough time to move into the top 10. He parlayed a strong third week into a second place in the standings by stage 19 but dropped to third after the time trial. However, he stood on the podium in Paris with compatriot Péraud in a historic first French podium placing in 18 years.
In 2015, Pinot led the Tour de Suisse after winning stage 5 atop the Rettenbach glacier near Sölden but slid off the podium into fourth in the final time trial. While his Tour GC bid never materialized, Pinot won the stage to Alpe d’Huez ahead of Nairo Quintana.
Pinot set out to improve his time trialing in 2016 and showed the work paid off by winning the time trial of the Critérium International at Porto-Vecchio, the final mountain stage and GC. He won the time trial in the Tour de Romandie, a stage of the Critérium du Dauphine and the French time trial title and was a major contender for the Tour de France. But again, illness precluded a result and he dropped out before stage 13 with bronchitis and missed the Olympic Games as a result, too.
The next year, Pinot opted to race the Giro d’Italia and was in third place at 43 seconds behind Quintana on the penultimate stage but dropped out of contention in the final time trial as Tom Dumoulin powered to the overall victory.
Ever resilient, Pinot overcame the disappointment of his Giro d’Italia in 2018 by finishing on the podium of the Tour de Pologne and winning a stage of the Vuelta, then at the end of the season claimed Milano-Torino and Il Lombardia.
A storming Tour de France stage win on the Col du Tourmalet in 2019 preceded his emotional abandon but he wasn’t quite done with Grand Tours yet. That came after the pandemic-disrupted the 2020 season when, after a second place in the rescheduled Critérium du Dauphiné, Pinot came down on a mass crash on greasy rain-soaked roads on the opening Tour stage in Nice and injured his back.
Pinot struggled on with the injury but finished anonymously in 29th but the injury knocked him out of the Vuelta. In 2021, he was due to compete in the Giro d’Italia but again, was ruled out because of his back injury and then missed the Tour de France, too.
Results continued to elude Pinot in early 2022, and he was almost in tears after missing out on a Tour of the Alps stage win after being caught and dropped by Miguel Angel Lopez in the final kilometre of the Kals am Grossglockner mountain finish. He redeemed himself with a storming victory on the final stage.
He also won a stage in the Tour de Suisse, but supported younger teammate David Gaudu at the Tour de France.
Pinot told L’Equipe that it was the 2021 back injury that led to his decision ot retire.
“That’s when I realised it was becoming difficult, that I was starting to get old. On several occasions I thought about stopping.
“If I go back a bit, I’d started to ponder it during lockdown as well. It was the first time I had the impression of being myself. It was, in inverted commas, an enforced holiday, without stress, without pressure, without racing everywhere. From that point I asked myself a lot of questions, about the fact I was living at 1,000km/h, that I wasn’t making the most of certain moments.
“Almost straight after lockdown I had my injury, and it was like I got some answers to the questions I was asking myself. For the first time since I was little, I no longer had the pressure of always thinking about the bike. Lockdown confirmed that I would enjoy life after cycling. I’d had a taster.”
Pinot intends to devote his post-cycling life to his agricultural pursuits. “Cycling has taken a third of my life and now I want to devote myself to my second passion: animals and nature. I’ve always wanted to create things from what nature offers us – making honey, growing fruit and vegetables, seeing what the animals can give us.”