‘I’m not sure I deserve it’ - Thibaut Pinot's moving farewell at Il Lombardia

Thibaut Pinot waves to the crowd as he crosses the finish line with his Groupama-FDJ teammates on the final race of his career
Thibaut Pinot waves to the crowd as he crosses the finish line with his Groupama-FDJ teammates on the final race of his career (Image credit: Getty Images)

“Ça y est! C'est fini.” Thibaut Pinot exclaimed after finishing Il Lombardia, effectively ending his professional career.

“I’m far from being a world champion but I have the best public in the world. It was a magnificent experience,” he said of the hundreds of screaming Pinot Ultras fans who had travelled to Italy for his last dance, gathered on the ‘Curva Pinot’ on the final climb of the race to Bergamo Alto to cheer and celebrate his unique character and career.

Pinot’s teammate Valentin Madouas, bemused by the photographers’ scrum that jumped on Pinot at the finish line asked “Did you win today?”

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the 2023 Il Lombardia but the race, the roadside fans and a huge crowd at the Groupama-FDJ team bus championed Pinot.

“I am embarrassed with all of it, I’m not sure I deserve it,” Pinot suggested later.

The “Curva Pinot” had been “a total chaos,” Pinot said. He was nearly dragged off his bike, as his fans shouted his name and tried to touch him in a final moment of emotion.

“I like that kind of passion,” the Frenchman admitted.

“The 'Curva Pinot' is a  pure celebration,” one of the Groupama-FDJ staff said. “It shouldn’t really exist, it’s just fun and a little ironic due to the contrast to Pinot’s character.”

“It happened at the Tour de France on the Petit Ballon d'Alsace, with a “Virage Pinot. At Il Lombardia, Thibaut gave people the extra motivation to create another non-cycling event at a bike race.”

There was lots of emotion and tears that came after the songs and cheers, and the common question among the Pinot Ultras was: “What time did you cry for the first time today?”

Pinot was emotional too. “I haven't won so many races in my career, but I think winning can even be boring. People want emotions, good or bad. They also know I’m like them, with the same hobbies and interests, the same fears and the same emotions.”

Arthur and Antoine, two young friends living in Paris, rode over 1000 kilometres from the French capital to pay their tribute to Pinot during his last dance. They joined the massive Ultras fan club at Il Lombardia and joined in the celebrations.

“This is a kind of pilgrimage,” Arthur said. “It's a bit ironic that I suffered from knee tendonitis on the second day of our bike journey, it's a Pinot-esque, isn't it?”

Every Pinot fan who stood on the final climb had a lot of stories and memories to share, fueled by Italian beers and a cheese fondue cooked in the middle of the street.

The Pinot retirement party was something rarely seen in cycling within the last few years, merging fans of the 33-year-old Frenchman, his former teammates from his youth and many people who drove hundreds of kilometres to celebrate together.

At age 22, Pinot won a stage of the Tour de France in 2012 and was the best young rider that year. He won again at Alpe d'Huez in 2015 and on the Col du Tourmalet in 2019 before injury robbed him of a chance of overall victory. Yet it is his defeats and emotions that have captured people’s hearts.

“Maybe French people do really like losers,” Pinot suggested.

After the finish of Il Lombardia, the Pinot Ultras descended en masse to the team bus. His family and personal friends were part of the party that was everything but intimate. Hundreds of people sang and cheered for Pinot. His mother Marie-Jeanne had to wait more than an hour to finally hug him.

Even the team staff and many teammates were there and emotional. Ladagnous, who had retired earlier this week after an 18-year career, became a soigneur for the day to hand up bidons to Pinot.

Pinot was emotional but happy. “Keep coming to the races and support the team next year. I will be with you,” he said, a promise which was vividly applauded.

Marc Madiot, the team manager, also asked Pinot's fans to become Groupama-FDJ fans and “to support all the team”.

French fans are already looking for a new hero and many like Lenny Martinez, who wore the leader jersey at the Vuelta a España during his first WorldTour season. Martinez was acclaimed among Pinot's teammates during the 90 minutes at the team bus, everyone wishing the day, like Pinot’s career, would never end.

Pinot’s obligations as a rider continue in Paris on Sunday after a series of television appearances and final interviews.

“On Monday morning, I will take the freedom train to my house”, he said the other day.

Pinot plans to open a guest house with his girlfriend Charlotte in his home village of Mélisey, in the Vosges region where he was born and raised.

As a very last souvenir of his last race, he was given a young goat named “Vittoria” by Il Lombardia race organisers RCS Sport.

“Vittoria” has already joined Pinot’s 60 or so animals on his farm.

“They are my everything,” he said. “I might miss cycling because only this sport can give you goosebumps. I will have a lot of calm and quiet in my life. But I know that I need a balance between calm and excitement, between cycling and the rest of my life as a former pro.”

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