“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down.”
Thibaut Pinot has won a bike race.
The last time that happened was the Tourmalet stage of the 2019 Tour de France. Over 1,000 days had passed between that hot day in the last pre-pandemic summer and this abysmal spring deluge in Austria. Over 1,000 days since that Thibaut Pinot victory and this one (the exact total depends on whether you count today and the previous win as days in that tally, but never mind, it’s a lot).
Pinot had been knocked down at the Tour of the Alps this week, his bid for victory on the fourth stage coming achingly close to success only for Miguel Ángel López to zip past him with less than a kilometre to the line.
Pinot got back up again. He got in the breakaway again. He came up against an Astana rider again. And this time he won. Cue much general outpouring of enthusiasm for #TiboPino.
So what? Cyclists often go a long time between wins and some never win anything at all. David de la Cruz, the Astana rider who Pinot beat, had gone even longer without one: over 1,500 days. Romain Bardet, who won the overall Tour of the Alps, hadn’t won a stage race since 2013.
There’s something special about Thibaut Pinot. Something hits different. I was on the Tour de France when Pinot won his first Tour stage, that famous day in Porrentruy - when Marc Madiot yelled out of the FDJ team car window, slammed his fists on the side, and gave the local panel-beater some pocket money - and there was something different about him then.
Ten years ago, there was a growing belief that Pinot could be a future Tour de France winner. Two years later, in 2014, he came third overall. That future has since drifted further and further away.
Pinot’s apparent destiny has been beset by problems. He had obvious issues descending mountains at race pace. His poor time-trialling often torpedoed his Grand Tour bids before they had even begun. There were injuries, crashes and tearful exits, none more heart-breaking than in the final week of the 2019 Tour.
Thibaut Pinot is fragile, human rider and a contrast to the infallible automatons he has often found himself up against. He has highs and lows. He has personality. He likes football. He keeps goats. In 2018 he went out and rode the shape of a goat on Strava. Who doesn’t love goats? (they’re on Instagram). And so what cold-hearted robot doesn’t love the man who loves goats? He’s also got a cow and a donkey.
When he narrowly lost to López he cried on TV because he was frustrated that his level wasn’t as good as it has been (who hasn’t been there?) and because he knew what good that win would have done him. He came out again the following morning “with a knife between my teeth”, he said. “I only had one thing in mind, that was to win.”
Cycling isn’t tribal or partisan; fans tend to love the game more than the player (those that love the player often get their fingers burnt and their hearts broken). Supporting Pinot isn’t about loving a player; it's about loving the spirit of the sport, which is about losing just as much as it is about winning.
Thibaut Pinot. He couldn’t come back after that huge disappointment, could he? Oh yes he could. Are we just jumping on the Pinot bandwagon? Maybe, but who cares? Give me a leg up. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
“We’ll be singing, when we’re winning.”
Cover image: Getty Images