With team coach and older brother Julien Pinot’s help, Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot rode strongly at the 2019 Tour de France, but was forced out of the race with an untimely thigh injury while in fifth place overall
With WorldTour competition set to resume with Strade Bianche on August 1, teams, riders and their coaches are now deep into the preparation that they hope will see the riders perform at their best for what will be a relatively short, intense second half of the season, with most of the sport's biggest events crammed into a period of just three months. Groupama-FDJ coach Julien Pinot – team leader Thibaut Pinot's older brother – has given his view of what he thinks it will take.
For the older Pinot, the build-up now requires an outlook similar to the start of a normal season, before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2020 season in March.
"In June, we got back to doing some individual training camps, sometimes at altitude, and we had to get the big-workload weeks rolling," he explained on the team's website at the weekend. "We have entered a real season preparation, as we usually experience. It's like January, but more intense, since we know that the season itself will be very intense, and that all the riders must be competitive in August.
"In January, we're usually able to plan distant goals with some of the riders, but right now, all 28 riders are 100 per cent involved in their preparation, training and recovery, whether they are at a training camp or at home," Pinot said.
The now 33-year-old Frenchman joined the team at the end of 2011, having previously been a coach at French elite amateur team CC Etupes, which brother Thibaut passed through in 2009, en route to turning professional the following year.
It means that Pinot has spent almost 10 years working with Marc Madiot's WorldTour squad, and that he's worked alongside his younger brother for most of that time, too.
But while Thibaut is now the undisputed leader of the team when it comes to Grand Tours, Julien has to put such family ties to one side in order to work for the good of the whole team.
"I obviously take care of Thibaut, but also Stefan Küng, Arnaud Démare, Anthony Roux, Rudy Molard – who I already trained at CC Etupes – Sébastien Reichenbach, Tobias Ludvigsson and Kevin Geniets," Pinot explained.
"Each coach has his own vision and sensitivity," he continued. "I personally see myself, above all, as someone who guides each rider, trying to give him everything he needs so that he can make the most of his potential. I see myself more as a guide than as a dictator/trainer. I think I have created close and healthy relationships with my riders, and I'm at their disposal and try to provide them with as much information as possible so that they're always able to absorb and understand what they're doing."
Pinot added that he also really enjoys working with such a diverse range of characters.
"Analysing the data of their rides is obviously part of our work, but we also try to connect that with their feelings, their sensations, and ultimately their mood and their state of mind, because that necessarily has an impact on what they're able to do in training," he said. "I find that mixture fascinating, and it creates real human adventures that can be spread over several years.
"My goal is obviously that the rider wins, but, before that, it is that he fulfills himself in his work. It's usually when he does that that he manages to perform at his best."
'My goal is always to think about the team'
In sprinter Démare, Classics and time-trial specialist Küng, and brother Thibaut – who was in fifth place overall at last year's Tour de France, just 20 seconds behind eventual race winner Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), when he was forced to pull out due to injury – Pinot has responsibility for three of the team's leaders, and arguably their three best riders, but it's a responsibility that he takes pride in.
"My goal is always to think about the team," Pinot said. "I'm coaching a lot of leaders, and it's also a lot of pressure. We know that when a rider is in poor shape, the coach is quickly pointed out. On the other hand, it is obviously a real satisfaction when preparations we establish work out and lead to results.
"On the Tour last year, when we'd remember the months of preparation – everything that had been done, and all the time spent together at training camps – and then saw how united the team was, and how well it was working together, we could be very proud of our work."
The team's performance director, Fred Grappe, has gradually given Pinot more and more responsibilities, he explained.
"He created my position when I arrived, and, over the years, our roles have evolved," said Pinot. "He became the director of the performance department, whereas he was a coach when I arrived. He also gives us more and more freedom because he can see me evolving, along with David [Han], who has been there for five years, and Anthony [Bouillod], for whom it is the third season.
"The activity of our performance department, the confidence between us coaches, is a huge strength," he said. "We are in contact from morning till evening, and we understand each other, and there are very few disagreements – and that is our strength in monitoring the riders. I think the whole team is aware of that."
'France and French riders have evolved'
Through Thibaut Pinot's continuing improvement, and the strong performances in recent years by riders such as Romain Bardet at rival French team AG2R La Mondiale and Julian Alaphilippe at Belgian team Deceuninck-QuickStep, Julien Pinot believes that French riders are having, or about to have, their day.
"Over 10 years, France's and French riders' position on the international scene has greatly evolved, and I don't think that we can exclude team coaches from that success," he said. "It may not be the case everywhere, but the collaboration of everyone in the team's common interest is what gives us our strength at Groupama-FDJ. Growing that confidence is something very valuable, and is something that wasn't there just a few years ago."