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.
Saint-Etienne: Thomas De Gendt won Saturday's Tour de France eighth stage with a solo breakaway as home hero Julian Alaphilippe thrillingly won back the yellow jersey a day ahead of the Bastille Day national holiday.
"I will wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day, for a Frenchman there is nothing better", Alaphilippe said after finishing the stage in third place, just behind Pinot.
Frenchmen Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot launched an impressive attack with around 15 kilometres to go and could not quite catch Lotto-Soudal's De Gendt, who held off the thrilling pursuit to win by six seconds.
Pinot, however, is in the form of his life and can compete with the best above 2,000 metres - an asset giving him hope he can succeed cycling great Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour in 1985.
Thomas is fifth, 1:12 off the pace.
"It was a fantastic finale, it was handsome to go together like this and we showed that we can work together even if we're in different teams", said Alaphilippe, whose move was highly expected as bonus seconds were up for grabs in the ascent to the Cote de la Jaillere and at the finish.
"There is pressure obviously but the biggest pressure is the one I put on myself", said Pinot, who abandoned the race in 2016 and 2017 and did not take part past year after failing to fully recover from a bout of pneumonia sustained near the end of the Giro d'Italia. "It's annoying and frustrating but to come back like I did is good".
Alaphilippe now leads Italian Giulio Ciccone, who started the day in yellow with a six-second advantage, by 23 seconds and Pinot by 53 seconds. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) " 4. If I hadn't have crashed I could have followed, and it's a totally different story today.
This time, he said he was taken out by Michael Woods when the Canadian rider crashed going around a right-hand bend.
De Gendt's incredible victory came after he was part of the original breakaway group of four before outlasting his fellow escapees, a charging peloton and then Alaphilippe and Pinot in the frantic closing stages. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) +0:26 5.
Stage nine is due to take place tomorrow. "Since I've done that I'm more relaxed", he said. 'We nearly got it with Caleb (Ewan) yesterday.