Paris — French cyclist Thibaut Pinot said on Thursday he can finally see light at the end of the tunnel as he prepares for the Tour de France nearly two years after a bad fall in the race.
The Groupama-FDJ climbing specialist was boosted by winning the sprints classification in the recent Tour of the Alps and will test his form again on the Tour of Switzerland in June two weeks before the 'Grande Boucle'.
"It was very hard mentally, long, especially because you can't see the end of the tunnel," Pinot told AFP in an interview.
"We know the date of the fall, but we never know when we're going to to be healed. The end point, the exit from the tunnel, was victory in the Tour of the Alps."
Pinot was once considered among the big hopes of French cycling after finishing third in the 2014 Tour de France and with stage wins on the three Grand Tours — France, Italy and Spain.
But the 31-year-old was hampered by lingering back problems after a crash on the first stage of the 2020 Tour de France.
'Place on the podium'
His overriding ambition is to savour "the unique emotions" of a stage win on the Tour de France again and finish the race in the leading climber's red polka dot jersey.
"A victory on the Tour is always beautiful. I've never won the top climber's jersey. I've dreamed of this jersey since I was a child," he said.
"It's not the mountains that scare me, I still have a lot of apprehension because of the fall.
"You have to be careful. I'm not yet mentally ready to fight for three weeks. I don't want to relive what I've been through so much that I'm taking even fewer risks than before.
"There will be barriers to remove between now and the start of the Tour."
The rider from eastern France believes he will have a better idea of his chances after the Tour of Switzerland from June 12-19.
"The Tour of Switzerland will give me a lot of answers," he said.
"Physically I expected some from the Tour of the Alps and the Tour of Romandie, I got them.
"It remains to be seen whether I am able to find my place at the head of the peloton and rub shoulders with the others."
His leading rivals for the Grand Boucle include Slovenia's two-time Tour de France victor Tadej Pogacar and his compatriot Primoz Roglic, with Romain Bardet and Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz also challengers.
But nothing can be taken for granted on the three-week Tour.
"We saw last year Roglic fell. In 2014, (Chris) Froome also fell," he pointed out.
"This is what is a bit complicated to manage on the Tour.
"You have more chances of falling in the first week than in the Giro or the Vuelta. Pogacar and Roglic are almost 100 percent unbeatable and problem-free.
"But there is still a place on the podium and it is within the reach of many."