In his final Giro d’Italia, Thibaut Pinot hoped for one last victory in his favorite grand tour.
The odds of accomplishing that goal looked extremely good when he and his two breakaway companions Alexander Cepeda (EF-Education Easypost) and Einer Rubio (Movistar) hit the final climb to Crans-Montana almost four minutes ahead of the peloton.
Pinot is also a fan favorite in Italy where they appreciate his attacking style and desire to race from the heart. He’s humble, he’s hardworking, he owns a farm and goats — who doesn’t love Thibaut? There were thousands of roadside fans pulling for him to take the win.
However, if he wanted his prize today, Pinot had two strategic problems to deal with: Cepeda and Rubio. The duo looked almost half Pinot’s size, diminutive climbers, wheel-suckers, irritating kids who stayed glued to his wheel, refusing to do even a small share of the work. They were pests. Thank God he was about to retire!
Pinot had a particular issue with the Ecuadorian Cepeda, spending most of the climb yelling at him, pointing fingers, hurling insults in probably ever language he could think of. Cepeda said next to nothing, showed zero expression — which seemed to frustrate Pinot even more.
And so Pinot attacked and attacked and attacked. Then he attacked some more, followed by a fresh round of insults for Cepeda, then back on the gas with several more attacks. He burned a ridiculous number of matches.
It soon became clear to everyone except Pinot that this strategy was not only a failure but counter productive. He needed to switch tactics — but sadly he soldiered on, increasingly bitter, annoyed and exhausted.
Finally, after another verbal assault from Pinot, Cepeda launched his own attack. We don’t know what his motivation was — perhaps just tired of hearing the Frenchman cuss him out. Up the road he went and it would take Pinot — and Rubio — a kilometer or so to catch him.
Then Pinot attacked again. You probably saw that coming, right? But he couldn’t shake his nemesis, a rider whose entire plan for this Giro seemed to be to make poor Pinot miserable and ruin his dream.
At last, all three men came to the finish with Cepeda jumping first and Pinot chasing — until it was Rubio who surprised them both.
This Giro stage was a dramatic display of different race strategies. Pinot seemed to only have the one that wasn’t working. And his desperate need to get that final Giro victory, clouded his judgement. He became too emotional; he couldn’t shift to another plan for victory.
Cepedas employed the time-honored, “I ain’t working” strategy, built on the knowledge that Pinot wanted this win so badly. He forced Pinot to exhaust himself in fruitless attacks. However, in this case, karma did play a role. His unwillingness to contribute at all must have irritated the Cycling Gods — who, by the way, were cheering for the Frenchman.
And finally, there’s Rubio who delivered a masterclass in out-of-sight, out-of-mind. He always lingered in the back and let Cepedas and Pinto irritate each other. He made it appear he was just hanging on, already happy with a third place. He kept his cool, saved energy, never made himself a target of Pinot’s insults. The Frenchman was distracted by Cededa who in turn based all his tactics on Pinot.
Einer Rubio did everything right today and earned his first grand tour stage victory. And unlike Cepeda, Thibaut Pinot doesn’t hate him.