Giro d'Italia feature, June 2, 2008
Marco Pinotti isn't the first rider to earn the nickname "Professor". Once upon a time, Laurent Fignon went by the same moniker, but there the similarity ends, at least as far as time trials on the final day of major tours are concerned. No-one will ever forget Fignon's collapse on the Champs Elysées in the 1989 Tour de France, and Pinotti will never forget his rousing victory in the 28.5-kilometre test which today wrapped up the 2008 Giro d'Italia.
"When I got to Corso Buenos Aires, I was so excited, because I remembered last year when we rode down there in the peloton. But on my own, riding between those two lines of fans, was unbelievable." Pinotti beamed tonight, having seen the time of 32'45" (52.213 kph) he set earlier in the afternoon withstand the onslaught of the general classification men. Not only could the Italian celebrate his High Road team's fourth stage win of the Giro - he was also thrilled to see the young German Tony Martin hold on to second place on the stage, just seven seconds behind. Another early starter, the Russian Mikhail Ignatiev completed the final stage podium, trailing Martin by three seconds.
"It's fantastic for the team to win four stages," the 32-year-old told reporters in the Milan press room tonight. "Can you remember that we weren't even invited to the Giro at first, in February? Well, of course I was upset then, because I'm Italian, but when we did finally get the invitation, we just wanted to do well and honour the race. Another important thing is that we're finishing with eight riders - and we only lost Kanstantin Siutsou yesterday because he'd been in a long break the previous day and developed a tendon problem, probably because of the cold."
Pinotti then went on to hail Bob Stapleton, who rescued the team from the ashes of T-Mobile last winter. Pinotti called the American "the best manager anyone could have".
"We should thank Stapleton," he added. "Bob always lets us focus on the racing. It wasn't easy for the team this winter, but I was never worried, because he was able to keep the pressure on himself and not on the team."
High Road may have been one of the success stories of the race, but today was all about Pinotti. He admitted tonight that it may have been a mistake to start the race with ambitions of a high finish overall, reflecting that he missed several key breakaways in the first week as a result. It was precisely such a breakaway early in the 2007 Giro d'Italia which earned "The Professor" a brief stint in the pink jersey.
This year he finished the Corsa Rosa in 65th position, just over two hours down on winner Alberto Contador.
"It's different to getting the pink jersey last year," he said when asked to compare the experiences. "Last year was great, and straight afterwards I said that in 2008 my goal should be a stage win. To be honest, though, after my performance in the Tour of Romandy this year (he was third overall), I started this race hoping to go well on GC. It wasn't until Alpe di Pampeago that I realized that I'd be better off just saving energy and trying to win this time trial..."
"When I set the best time today, I knew that I'd have to wait for Contador to finish, because he could beat me, but then I also know that he wouldn't be taking too many risks in the last four kilometres, so maybe I could still win," explained Pinotti, who sports the tricolore jersey of Italian national time trial champion. "I thought Contador and Marzio Bruseghin were the main threats for the win today, because I knew they'd have that extra motivation.
"On the other hand, I also knew they'd used up a lot of mental and physical energy compared to me, because I wasn't fighting hard every day like them. I remembered last year, and how hard it was in the last time trial for me, because I'd been trying hard to defend my top twenty place every day. Your strength is like a candle: every day a little bit burns away and at the end of the race you have nothing."
Asked finally whether the victory of a rider noted for his firm opposition to doping - i.e. himself - was an encouraging sign at the end of grueling three-week tour, Pinotti smiled, but preferred not to commit. "I don't know," he said. "I think the problem's getting smaller. At least, I like to think positively, so that's what I'll think."
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