Thibaut Pinot said he was still aiming to win the white jersey and claim a spot on the podium when the Tour de France ends in Paris on Sunday. Pinot, 24, climbed up to second overall after finishing second on Thursday’s 144.5km Pyrenean stage from Pau to the top of the epic Hautacam climb. The FDJ leader took 49sec out of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to leap above the Movistar rider and into second. Veteran Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud also gained a place and now sits just 13sec behind Pinot in third, with Valverde dropping two places to fourth, although only 2sec adrift of the podium. With just Saturday’s 54km time trial left to make a difference, Pinot said he would give it his all, despite being on paper the weakest of the three against the clock. He also extended his advantage over compatriot Romain Bardet, 23, in the young rider’s white jersey competition to more than two minutes.
“The objective is to win the white jersey and get on the podium but it will be a tough battle for the podium between Peraud, Valverde and me,’ said Pinot. “And with just 15sec separating us, you might as well say we’re level. But I’ll take every second I can and I’ll fight and hope not to finish fourth and off the podium. Second now is good but the important thing is where I am on Sunday night.’
Pinot had said before the stage he would need a minute’s lead over Peraud and Valverde for the timetrial if he is to finish on the podium and he was the one who pushed the pace on the final climb, along with American Tejay Van Garderen, who was looking to put time into Bardet to improve his top five chances. Peraud managed to sit behind the pair and receive a tow up the hill, but he admitted he was at his limit.
“Behind Thibaut I was on the ragged edge and sometimes there was a headwind,’ said Peraud. ‘But I gritted my teeth to stay in their wheels. My aim was to gain time on Valverde. Now it’s all to do in the timetrial. I believe (in a podium finish) but I was really running on empty today. I was thinking about the podium and a possible second place and I told myself: ‘you mustn’t let Thibaut go!'”
Valverde may have lost 49sec to Pinot and 44sec to Peraud but he seemed quietly confident that he could do well enough on Saturday to take back at least one of those places. “It’s not such a dramatic day,’ said Valverde. ‘I had to hold on, to fight, to suffer. I’m very tired. I was all alone but I didn’t finish too far behind. I went at my pace and now there’s the time trial, everything is possible. I was a little bit in the red today, that’s for sure, but so was everyone. You have to do what you can with what you’ve got and if I have good legs, I can retake second place.”
One rider who has already achieved his aim in young Pole Rafal Majka, who came third on the stage and earned enough points to ensure he will win the king of the mountains competition. He has also won two stages at this Tour having finished sixth at the Giro in May. “I didn’t feel as good today but still third place is good,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m happy because I’ve won two stages and had a second place and a third place and I’ve got the mountains jersey. This is a big surprise, it’s my first Tour de France.” Asked if he could one day win the whole thing, Majka wasn’t about to rule it out. “Maybe,” he said.