Pinot is now likely to head into the first high mountain stage with huge hopes of donning the yellow jersey in Bagneres de Bigorre next Thursday.
Thomas De Gendt soloed to victory on stage eight of the Tour de France in Saint Etienne as Julian Alaphilippe regained the yellow jersey and Geraint Thomas survived a dramatic crash which snapped team-mate Gianni Moscon's bike in half.
"I think going forward, those are the two to watch".
Alaphilippe will be the first Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day since Tony Gallopin in 2014.
After seizing control of this year's Tour de France with his late attack on La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday, Geraint Thomas very almost lost it on Saturday.
Thomas De Gendt's masterful breakaway victory was the full stop on a memorably chaotic afternoon on the rollercoaster roads to Saint-Etienne that blew the peloton to smithereens. "I'm fine, but it's just frustrating - obviously it was a key moment in the race, ' said Thomas, who emerged from the incident largely unscathed but for the odd graze on his arm".
"It's annoying and frustrating but to come back like I did [is pleasing]."
Despite the frustration, Thomas, who sits fifth overall, 1:12 off the pace and 19 seconds behind third-placed Pinot - one of his main GC rivals - was upbeat. If I hadn't have crashed I could have followed, and it's a totally different story today.
"I was ready for Julian's attack since last night and all day I was waiting for it because I had great legs", said Pinot, who like Milan-San Remo champion Alaphilippe holds a "Monument" classic title as he won the Giro Di Lombardia last October.
"I've been working hard for that, but it goes beyond my hopes", Alaphilippe said.
Thomas was involved in another crash during the opening stage last week in Belgium. De Gendt sniffed a chance on the Cote de la Jailliere and took it.
Behind De Gendt, Pinot and Alaphilippe, Michael Matthews won the best-of-the-rest sprint for more validation he is doing a lot right.
"We chose to ride to give me a shot at the stage and I think we did a really good job", he said.
Stage nine is due to take place tomorrow.
A day after his long and unsuccessful breakaway in Burgundy, Frenchman Yoann Offredo struggled with an intestinal bug at the back while pure sprinters including Dylan Groenewegen and Caleb Ewan went through a day of suffering, just making sure they reached the finish within the delays.