Marco Pinotti will bring the curtain down on his career in the most fitting of ways on October 20, when he lines up at the Chrono des Nations in the colours of Italian time trial champion, before beginning a new, part-time role on the coaching staff of BMC.
Before that, of course, Pinotti bids farewell to the tifosi with Sunday’s Tour of Lombardy, which starts on home roads in Bergamo, and then breaks new ground by racing in China for the first time at the Tour of Beijing.
After considering retirement when he crashed out of the Tour of the Mediterranean in February, Pinotti was pleased to be able to bow out on his own terms, and the announcement of his retirement comes a week after he rode to 7th place at the world championships time trial in Florence.
“I’ve just raced in the Worlds in the maglia azzurra. This week, I’ll race Lombardy on my home roads, then I’ll go to experience something new in China, before I finish up in the Italian champion’s jersey in a time trial at the Chrono des Nations,” Pinotti told Cyclingnews.
Though Pinotti hangs up his wheels, his involvement with the top level of the sport does not end as soon as he crosses the line in Les Herbiers. For the 2014 season, at the behest of his former Team Highroad directeur sportif and current BMC Performance Director Allan Peiper, Pinotti will work within BMC’s new Sports Science division.
“For me, it’s a transition between riding and coaching, and it’s a part-time role, so that will allow me to spend more time with my family, which is the most important thing,” said Pinotti, who was offered the role early in the summer and came to a decision in the past month. “The duties are still to be defined – we’ll meet to discuss 2014 in a few weeks – but it will be focused a lot on time trialling.”
Even while competing in the professional peloton, Pinotti has also been cutting his teeth as a coach over the past three seasons, working with New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen on her time trialling. “It’s more or less the same sensation as when you’re racing – when the rider you coach gets results, you also get a smaller but very similar kind of satisfaction,” he said.
Pinotti cites his spells in the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia, in 2007 and 2011, as the highlights of his career, along with his participation in the London Olympics, and he also claimed victory on the Giro’s final time trial stage in 2008 and 2012, as well as six Italian national time trial titles.
Yet Pinotti’s popularity with the cycling public has perhaps owed as much to his values as to his victories. Forthright in his declarations on doping and the state of cycling in general, and with a keen sense of perspective on the sport’s place in the wider world, the engineering graduate was regularly referred to as Italian cycling’s voice of reason through a particularly turbulent era.
“It was a pleasure to be seen by the public as being clean,” Pinotti said. “I was pleased to be presented as having certain values. It was never something that annoyed me. For the fans, it’s important to have people they can believe in.”
It’s easy to imagine how a reputation such as Pinotti’s could have been something of a hindrance in the peloton in the not-too-distant past, but he insists that expressing an opinion has never created any issues for him with his peers.
“I never preached and I never sounded off about rumours. I only dealt with facts. I always took a position based on the facts before me,” he said. “I never had any problems directly as a result of it.”
Perhaps because he last rode for an Italian team in 2004, when his five-year spell at Lampre ended, Pinotti arguably enjoys a greater degree of recognition amongst foreign fans than in his own country. “It’s probably true, but that’s understandable because I spent so much time on foreign teams and I made the effort to learn and speak English,” he said. “If anything, my popularity abroad is a point of pride.”
That said, Pinotti’s standing in Italy has increased in the later years of his career, reflected by the trust placed in him by national team coach Paolo Bettini. If Pinotti was left largely to his own devices on his Worlds time trial debut in Plouay in 2000, he felt that the discipline has been afforded greater respect under Bettini’s tenure.
“Bettini put a lot of trust in me from his first year in charge, when he selected me for the road race at the Worlds in Geelong. I had to pull out due to illness and I think he appreciated my honesty in doing that,” Pinotti said. “We’ve always worked well together since, like in London, when he including me in the road race team to ensure I could ride the time trial. Paolo saw better than others the evolution of the sport.”
After fifth place in London, Pinotti appeared on course to claim a long-awaited medal at the subsequent Worlds in Valkenburg, only to crash out of the race on the approach to the finale. It was, he said, the biggest disappointment of his career, but he is hopeful, too, that his recent experiences in the maglia azzurra have laid some important foundations.
“Sometime in the future, I’d like to be able to work with the Italian federation on a project that helps young riders in the discipline of time trialling,” Pinotti said. “They need a project in Italy and get all of the national teams involved with it.”
For now, given his commitment to BMC, the example set by Pinotti – on and off the bike – will have to suffice for Italy's young riders, and that in itself is a substantial legacy.