One of the more analytical riders in the contemporary peloton, Marco Pinotti had clear ideas about his approach on the eve of the world championships time trial in Valkenburg. The key to the 45.7km course, he reckoned, would be to hold something in reserve for the finale and, in particular, the haul up the Cauberg just before the finish.
Unfortunately for the Italian, with 13 kilometres to go and just as it seemed that his theory was about to be borne out in the white heat of competition, his wheels slid from under him on a greasy turn and he fell heavily on his left side.
Although Pinotti remounted and gingerly began pedalling again, it soon became apparent that his afternoon was over as he had sustained a significant blow to his left collarbone. Paolo Bettini pulled alongside him in the team car and after a short, freewheeling conference, Pinotti wheeled to a halt at the side of the road and the door yawned open.
Faced with the disappointment of his rider, who was quietly confident of a podium finish after placing fifth at the Olympic Games, Bettini could do little other than cradle his head and look to muster what words of consolation he could. Shortly afterwards, Pinotti sat into the car and was driven to hospital with a suspected fractured collarbone.
"When he fell, Marco was only four seconds behind Vasil Kiryienka," Bettini said later to Tuttobici. "We had planned the race so that Marco would go hard in the second part of the course, which was the part that suited him best. I'm disappointed for him above all because today really could have been his day. Third place was within his reach."
After a slow start, Pinotti came through the 14.1km point in 11th place, over half a minute down on his BMC teammate Taylor Phinney, but the Italian steady began to pick up the pace after reaching the summit of the climb of Sint Remigiusstraat.
By the second check after almost 30 kilometres, Pinotti was up to fifth place, and while Phinney and eventual winner Tony Martin (Germany) were locked in a private battle for the rainbow jersey, the Italian was edging closer and closer to eventual bronze medallist Vasil Kiryienak (Belarus).
With grim irony, during his pre-race reconnaissance Pinotti was said to have identified the very point at which he fell as a potential hazard in the event of rain, and after a series of showers early in the afternoon, the road was indeed treacherous at that sharp left-hand corner.
It was left to Pinotti's teammate Adriano Malori to fly the flag, and he rode to a top 10 finish, 2:40 down on Tony Martin, although he had to battle with the worst of the rain during his ride. But in any case, Pinotti had been the carrier of realistic Italian hopes in the discipline.
"Our boys were up to the level of a Worlds time trial and they fulfilled the expectations we had of them," Bettini said. "They trained very seriously, it was a project that began months ago. Only bad luck denied us what could have been an unforgettable day."
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