France’s best hope to win Tour de France cracks in Pyrenees

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The Tour de France’s first day in the Pyrenees cost the host nation its best hope to end its 35-year title drought.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot was dropped on the penultimate climb on stage eight, the first of back-to-back mountain days. He finished 25 minutes behind stage winner and countryman Nans Peters and fell nearly 19 minutes behind in the overall standings led by Brit Adam Yates.

“I could not pedal, that’s the way it is,” Pinot said. “I want to apologize to my teammates and all my supporters.”

Pinot began Saturday in good position, ninth place with the same time as defending champion Egan Bernal, 13 seconds behind Yates.

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But Pinot, third at the 2014 Tour, was seen sitting up, stretching his back on multiple occasions after losing contact with the peloton.

Ahead, Yates and the pre-Tour co-favorites, Bernal and Slovenian Primoz Roglic, finished in the same time. Yates keeps his three-second lead over Roglic.

Pinot, a 30-year-old for team Groupama-FDJ, crashed in the Tour’s first stage in Nice the previous Saturday. He failed to finish the Tour in each of his last three starts. Last year, he tearfully abandoned during stage 19 with a leg injury while in fifth place overall.

“It might be a turning point in my career,” Pinot said. “I’ve been through too many failures.”

The last Frenchman to win the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1985, making this the longest drought for the host nation. Before this, the longest span between French wins in Tour history dating to 1903 was seven races.

France had three other cyclists in the top 11 overall going into Saturday — Guillaume Martin in third, Romain Bardet in seventh and Julian Alaphilippe in 11th. But none were expected to hold up in the Pyrenees and Alps as well as Pinot. Alaphilippe also cracked Saturday, falling to 26th place, nearly 12 minutes behind.

The Tour continues in the Pyrenees with five categorized climbs on Sunday with NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold coverage starting at 7 a.m. ET.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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