We all have our demons on the bike. For some it’s the wet. Others despise the wind. The cold cuts straight through some riders. Whilst high speed cornering gives many amongst us the absolute heebie jeebies.
For FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, however, the demon was descending. As we’ve seen time and again since the Frenchman burst onto the scene in Porrentruy to win Stage 8 of the 2012 Tour de France (a result that nearly gave his team manager Marc Madiot a heart attack and catapulted Pinot to 10th overall behind Brad Wiggins), climbing has always been one of Pinot’s greatest strengths. Only trouble was he had to come back down – and travelling quickly downhill appeared to so completely freak out the young man from Mélisey that just 12 months ago many were suggesting his professional career may well be over before it had really even began.
After losing more than 30 minutes to the leaders in just two stages in the Pyrenees in the 2013 Tour and eventually abandoning on the stage to Mont Ventoux, Pinot was in tears. He told Cyclingnews at the time: “Some people are afraid of spiders or snakes. I’m afraid of speed. It’s a phobia.” He then went on to tell L’Equipe: “When I saw that I was not able to stay on the wheel of a rider like Mark Cavendish on the descent off a mountain pass, I asked myself: ‘What am I doing on the Tour?’ I received the clear response that I have nothing to do here. This is a very sad situation for me, I’m the person who is most disappointed about it… I don’t know if I will be able to get over this trauma.”
Voila! What a difference a year makes. If ever you need a source of inspiration for facing your fears, be it on the bike or anywhere else in life, look no further than this man. Pinot always had the physical gifts to compete and now after a considerable amount of hard work – including a highly specialised training program boasting, among other things, a rally driving course on ice – his head has finally caught up.
He may still not be the best (aka maddest) of descenders, but at least he can now hold his own with most in the peloton. He’s been reborn as a rider, and just look at him go – bearing down on a maiden podium finish in Paris. Sure, Nibali is in a class of his own this year. But given Pinot’s tender age, he’s still just 24, it may not be long before he joins the upper echelon of Grand Tour riders, along with the assembly line of other exciting French talent that’s beginning to make a real mark on the WorldTour. And as good as the French are going at his year’s Tour, let’s not forget potentially the best of them all isn’t even riding, 22-year old Warren Barguil.