Sunday May 27, 2012.
Thousands of people line the streets of Milan, locked down to traffic and given over to the national cycle race, 103-years-old and one of the greatest of all sporting events.
Three weeks of racing conclude in a 28.2km time trial, its outcome deciding the fortunes of a Canadian and a Spaniard. But there is local interest here, too. The hopes of the home nation rest comfortably on the abilities of a rider who has consistently proved himself the fastest of his countrymen in the race of truth.
When the clock stops, the Italian has completed the course in 33.06, the fastest by 39 seconds of the 157 riders. He has tasted victory in the Giro d’Italia before. If the first occasion, also in Milan, in 2008, was joyous, this second triumph is equally sweet, ecstasy mixed with relief at a return to his very best. The Olympic Games beckon in three months and the Lombardo will seek success on a still larger stage.
Marco Pinotti, university graduate, Grand Tour stage winner, five-time Italian national time trial champion, and recently published author, will return to London on April 12, 2013 for a more relaxed engagement. The BMC rider, team-mate to world road race champion, Philippe Gilbert, and to 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, will be the guest of honour at training weekend.
His previous visit to the capital came last August, when he finished fifth in the Olympic time trial, beaten only by a quartet with justifiable claims to being among the world’s best in the discipline: Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin, Chris Froome, and his BMC Racing team-mate, Taylor Phinney. The occasion is one he will not forget. He talks of reconnaissance rides rendered useless by the scale of the support, of crowds blotting out the landmarks he had committed to memory.
“I came back to the finish and went to the cool down zone and watched Wiggins finish on the big screen,” he recalls. “I stopped my bike and just enjoyed the atmosphere. Some people came to me and said, ‘You have to go, you have to go.’ I said, ‘Oh, let me enjoy this a second.”
Pinotti’s respect for Wiggins’ talents extends to his appraisal of the Tour champion’s chances of adding a second Grand Tour title to his palmares in this year’s Giro. “If he decides that he’s going to fight for the overall, I think he’s the favourite, number one,” he says. Statistically, he adds, Tour winners fare better in the Giro than those who win the maglia rosa do in the French race.
This year’s corsa rosa, with fewer transfers than last year’s race, is also in the Sky leader’s favour. “I think he can win the Giro even on 95 per cent of his form,” Pinotti says, citing Wiggins’ triumphs in last year’s Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine as he built form for the Tour. “He was third in the Tour de France in 2009, he was third in the Vuelta in 2011, coming back from an injury, he won the Tour last year. His pedigree speaks for itself.”
The Italian’s citation of Wiggins as the third place finisher in the 2009 Tour is perhaps significant. The Londoner’s promotion to the podium, via the disqualification of the disgraced Lance Armstrong, he clearly considers unworthy of mention. Pinotti’s thoughts on doping, given in interviews and in his book, The Cycling Professor, are the product of an intelligent mind. Few analyses of cycling’s doping culture have focussed on the doper’s self-inflicted moral harm, though Armstrong, now with time on his hands, may choose to ruminate on a method of victory Pinotti compares to burying toxic waste in one’s own garden.
“Doping should be seen as wrong, not for fear of controls, but simply because it is not right to do it,” he has written. “It pursues an end with the wrong means and it leaves you empty-handed. Or does anyone really believe that winning while cheating makes us truly happy?”
Pinotti spent the weeks immediately following the Olympic Games translating his book, Il mestiere del ciclista: Una vita in bicicletta, curiosità, esperienze e consigli. Available in book shops in Italy, his publisher’s reticence to commit to a print run in English led Pinotti to complete his own translation and to publish in ebook form.
This work, alongside the achievements of an untarnished 14-year career at cycling’s elite level, has made the 36-year-old Italian one of the most respected members of the peloton and a rider on one of its biggest teams. The BMC Racing roster extends beyond its aforementioned leaders to former world road race champions, Alessandro Ballan and Thor Hushovd, and to the highly-rated young American duo of Taylor Phinney and Teejay Van Gaarderen. It is Van Gaarderen and Evans, another former world road race champion, whom Pinotti will seek to support at this year’s Tour de France.
Pinotti talks of the responsibility that accompanies membership of one of cycling’s highest profile squads, and of balancing personal goals with the focus of the team. Injury at the Tour de Méditerranéen in February has ruled him out of this year’s Giro, such is the recovery period required for a Grand Tour. He will seek instead to build sufficient form to be selected for the Tour de France team, and the world time trial championships in Florence in September. A place on BMC’s roster inspires excellence, he says. “When I came into cycling, I said I wanted to do everything the best I can. You are surrounded by these people. You look for excellence every day.”
Before he pulls on the red and black of BMC for a competitive engagement, he will do so for a ride in Ashdown Forest. That the accomplishments of an Italian rider are now recognised by an audience of English amateurs is a measure of professional cycling’s ever widening appeal on these shores. Pinotti has witnessed the growth first hand, not only at the Olympic Games, but also from his memories of the 2007 Grand Depart in London and from his ride in the 2010 Tour of Britain.
He is looking forward to his return to London, to the seat of his Olympic memories; the event he describes as the high point of Britain’s changing cycling culture. Inspired to ride by his grandfather’s passion for cycling and growing up in a culture where, he says, children can expect the Giro to visit their home town at least once every six years, Pinotti has been immersed in Italy’s rich cycling traditions since a boy. His visit to these shores next month, an Italian abroad, can perhaps be seen as evidence for the development of a similar culture here.
Marco Pinotti will be riding with guests at a training weekend organised by London’s Cadence Cycling Performance Centre, to be held in the Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, from Friday April 12 to Sunday April 14. Click here for full details.