An interview with Marco Pinotti, October 26, 2007
Marco Pinotti is widely respected in the peloton as being a clean and fair cyclist, and when he found himself in the leader's jersey of his home tour earlier this year he received accolades from afar. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews sat down with the Italian to catch up during the recent World Championships to discuss his maturation in the cycling world and his 2008 plans.
Marco Pinotti waved the flag of Team T-Mobile's anti-doping stance high when he took the maglia rosa of overall leader during this year's Giro d'Italia. The Germany-based team had completely reorganized its structure over the previous winter, dropping a lot of riders from its ranks and adding in riders it believed were role-models for its new stance, like the 31 year-old from Bergamo.
While finishing his degree in Management Engineering at the University of Bergamo, l'ingegner Pinotti started his cycling career as a stagiaire with Team Polti in 1998. Classmate and friend Matteo Algeri, currently a directeur sportif with Saunier Duval, encouraged his continuation, and in 1999 he started his first of six years with Italian Team Lampre.
"Now when I go riding, many of the older riders yell my name when I pass them. It never happened before." -Marco Pinotti is getting more recognition from his peers.
"It has been a maturation and personal development process," stated Pinotti to Cyclingnews at the bar of the Relaxa Hotel in Stuttgart. A light drizzle came down outside as he fondly reflected back over his years at Lampre (1999-2004), Saunier Duval (2005-2006) and T-Mobile.
"When I turned pro it was with Lampre, which is an Italian team, close to where I live. They had a technical director that was good in developing young riders. I was lucky to find a good environment to develop as a rider, even if I did not have good luck with injuries," he continued.
He had two major setbacks while riding in the blue and pink colours of Lampre. "I was not lucky with the operation in my left arm, I was out almost a year and a half. I crashed in the fall of 2000, I raced in 2001, but then the problem came back again at the end of 2001. So then I lost time again in 2002. In 2003 I started again, but I broke my pelvis and I lost half my season. For two years, 2002 and 2003, I only did a few races. 2004 I finally had a full season."
The full season in 2004 saw him take a step in the direction of an Italian champion when he finished second at the national time trial championships. The next year, after changing teams, he would go on to take his first maglia tricolore.
"In 2005 I moved to Saunier. This was a step higher because this was not an Italian team, it was a different environment. I had the chance to ride the Giro for the first time. It was a chance to achieve my personal goal of winning the Italian national time trial championships. Then in 2006, [two-time Giro winner Gilberto] Simoni came [to the team] and I had a chance to ride the Giro with a leader. It was very different, I learned a lot from that year."
The team rallied around its new signing to help him vie for his third victory in the Giro. Directed by Pietro Algeri, the team learned a lot but was only able to see Simoni to third overall.
"He has a strong character. When he talks everyone looks at him. He is an old-style rider - a respected captain. He was able to lead the team. Many of us were doing the Giro for the first time. We learned a lot how to move in the race. It is easy to say, but going into a race like that with Simoni you had a stronger commitment."
While wearing the national champion's jersey that he won ten months prior, Pinotti was given his chance to shine in the individual time trial around Piaggio's headquarters of Pontedera. Piaggio is the maker of the famous Vespa motor scooter and the Giro went by to celebrate Vespa's 60th anniversary. Pinotti, going like a Vespa, reflected on that day. "That was very important for me," he stated. "I was able to help the team but also do a very good time trial." He finished third behind Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, both riders later being implicated in Operación Puerto.
It was Ullrich's troubles that helped bring about the changes in T-Mobile and open a door for Pinotti to join under the new General Manager Bob Stapleton.
"[It] was quite a dream for me. The big difference is the structure. The team has lots of people; like others, they have thirty riders, but so many more directors, helpers for the media, travel and... everything. They have about forty people around the team, or more! For the first time I worked in a team where the team manager [Stapleton] does not come from cycling - he does not have a past in cycling. We can see the difference in the way he leads the team, it is very... he always wants feedback from us. He comes to the races to ask us what we think about the team and what we think the team can do to help the riders perform better.
"It functions a lot like a company, where communication is very important. We had this a little bit at Saunier, with [General Manager] Mauro Gianetti, but with Stapleton more so. Through this communication and relationship we have been able to overcome many of the difficult things that have happened at the beginning of this year."
Troubles and triumphs
T-Mobile withdrew Serhiy Honchar from its roster before the start of the Giro because of abnormal blood values, it sacked Patrik Sinkewitz after a positive test for testosterone before the Tour de France and, recently, in the Vuelta a España it pulled Lorenzo Bernucci after he was found to have taken an appetite suppressant.
"He did not do it to improve the performance. I am not a doctor, but that product does not improve performance," Pinotti said of Italian Bernucci. "It was a mistake. He has to know, because it is our job to know. It resulted in big consequences. It was his fault, but he has to pay a very high price."
The team also had to pay - due to the two positives (Sinkewitz and Bernucci) it had to suspend its operations at the end of this season for a week's term, which it also used as a point to end its 2007 season. Even with the small problems, the team experienced some highs during its metamorphosis.
Pinotti had enjoyed four days in the maglia rosa and Linus Gerdemann enjoyed similar success when he wore the leader's maillot jaune in the Tour. "It was like dreaming with open eyes," Pinotti recalled of the descent of Forca di Cerro into Spoleto where he took the maglia rosa for the first time. "Also, for the team, we were trying to show that we could have great performances with our new mentality. In addition, wearing the leader's jersey in a Grand Tour was very important.
"You can say I am lucky, but also I had to make my luck. I was a little lucky, but I had to train very hard to get into that position."
Some things in Pinotti's life have changed since the days of those pink days in May. "Now when I go riding, many of the older riders yell my name when I pass them. It never happened before. It makes me more aware, but I don't want to just be known as the guy that wore the leader's jersey for four days."
He reached out to his German team-mate during the Tour. "I sent him [Gerdemann] a message. I could understand his emotions. Maybe his feelings were something more because the Tour is so much bigger, and he also won the stage. I was surprised when he lost the jersey the following day. I thought that he could have kept the jersey for three or four days. And he lost the jersey to Rasmussen, who should not have been in the Tour."
The loss of yellow by Rasmussen is similar to what will soon likely happen to Italian Luca Ascani. The 24 year-old from Le Marche bettered Pinotti in the Italian Time Trial Championships by 25 seconds; however, he subsequently tested positive for EPO (Erythropoietin).
"I am talking with the anti-doping officials in Italy, and they are waiting for the 'B' sample, and after that I will get the jersey. This is also a sad story because, okay, I am happy to have won, but I feel like someone has stolen away my emotions of winning that day. When I went home I felt happy, but if I had come home a winner it would have been very different."
[After the interview it was announced on October 5 that the 'B' sample also resulted a positive for EPO, and Pinotti should receive his second maglia tricolore before the end of 2007.]
On the horizon
On the day this interview took place (Wednesday, September 26), Pinotti was satisfied to see the end of his season approaching. It was the eve of the men's time trial (where he would go on to finish 14th behind winner Fabian Cancellara), and the end of the season was premature due to T-Mobile's subsequent decision to stop the season with its required hiatus.
"I don't know if we will ride Paris-Tours and Lombardia," he pondered. "If we don't ride, then I will just end my season here, after the Worlds. I would like to ride Lombardia, it is close to my house and I know the roads."
He will take some well-deserved rest, and maybe convince his wife to expand the Pinotti family. "Yeah, that is my first goal!" he said of his desire to have a baby. "As soon as possible. My wife said, 'unless you stop racing, no child!' I said 'no!' I hope that we have a baby soon. We will see."
Nevertheless, 2008 will see a similar programme to 2007. "I want to ride the Giro again. This year I was asked to ride the Tour, towards the end of the Giro, but I said 'no'. When the Tour was going on, I did think 'It would be nice to do the Tour,'" he laughed. "I want to go the Giro at 100 percent; if the team asks me to do the Tour then I will do the Tour, but then in August, that is it. Axel Merckx did the Giro and Tour this year, and he then stopped after the Tour."
The Giro will be presented on December 1 in Milan, and then Pinotti will have a better idea of his chances to achieve a stage win in his home tour. "When I see the Giro 2008 map I will decide if I want to try for a time trial win. This year I got top ten, but I think a stage win would be better." If he finds himself in the winning move again he jokingly said that he might not be so friendly. "Next year, if we arrive with two riders [like he did with Luis Felipe Laverde - ed.] I will contest the sprint. Maybe I would still get second, but I will try," he laughed.