Now we move on to the official, certified, guaranteed, seriously, no backsies, definite Next French Tour de France Champion. And yes, That's Thibaut Pinot. Pinot has progressed into a true GC contender this year, and I'm inspecting just how much contending he can manage.
Name: Thibaut Pinot
Birth: May 29, 1990 (age 26). Melisey, Haute Saone, France. (400m)
Team: FDJ, who are bringing an international mix of Cédric Pineau, Sebastien Reichenbach, Steve Morabito, newly crowned French champion Arthur Vichot, Jérémy Roy, Matthieu Ladagnous, Anthony Roux and William Bonnet to support their leader, encourage people to play the French national lottery, and come seventh in a few breakaway stages.
Past TdF GC Placement: His TDF career started off with a tenth in 2012, then there was that weird year where he DNF'd after forgetting how to ride his bicycle downhill. By 2014 he had fully recovered, and capitalized on the absence of his opponents to take a podim finish. His GC challenge never really ignited last year, but...
Stage Victories: A win on The Alpe probably made up for it. He won another mountain stage in 2012, from the breakaway.
Other Jerseys: He won the white jersey in 2014.
Other Grand Tours: He's only ridden six GTs, and four of them are Tours de France. He failed to finish in 2014, and came seventh the year before.
This is Pinot's standout skill. It takes a helluva lot of climbing ability to win on Alpe d'Huez, and he's done that. Other mountains he's conquered include the mighty Rettenbachferner and Champex-Lac in Switzerland, Meribel in France, The Col de l'Ospedale...sorta in France, and Le Grand Colombier in the Tour de L'Ain. He's always around the front on mountain stages, and we can expect him to repeat that throughout this year's Tour de France.
This is an interesting part of Pinot's portfolio. He used to be seen as a pure climber, who couldn't hold his own in a time-trial, but from coming twelfth in the final time-trial of the 2014 Tour, he has steadily improved, even winning a time-trial stage of the Tour de Romandie. It wasn't even that hilly. He'll also line up for the Tour de France's time-trials in his French national champions kit, after taking the title from Jérôme Coppel at the weekend on a tough course in Vesoul. The two time-trials in the Tour will be very much to his liking, with plenty of climbing in each. In fact, he may be expecting to make up time on his main competitors in each of them.
I think it's very clear that Pinot has improved immeasurably in the last year, so looking back at other performances might be basically pointless. His Tour de France this year could mirror his Tour in 2014, but instead of him sticking with riders like Jean-Christophe Péraud, he could be right up there with Froome, Contador and Quintana at 100%. And why not? Okay, his team might not stick around for him for a good portion of the race — Sébastien Reichenbach and Steve Morabito are his best mountain domestiques, and that doesn't compare to Movistar's Izagirre and Valverde, or Tinkoff's Kreuziger and Majka. It certainly doesn't get near the horsepower of the Sky, er, stable.
The first week of the Tour shouldn't be too big of a problem for his comparitively weak team, he's good in the time-trials, and climbing definitely shouldn't be a problem for him. But can he really win? Well...
Verdict: Can He Win?
Betting Odds: 25/1
My call: Okay, probably not. But in my opinion at least, Pinot is the guy with the best chance of displacing one of the real bigs for a podium position. He can time-trial, he can climb, so why not?