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An interview with Marco Pinotti, September 25, 2008
Aiming high on home soil
Italian time trial champion Marco Pinotti is one who could surprise in the elite time trial. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes spoke to him after his Tour of Ireland victory, hearing about his season assessment and his aim to ride well in Varese.
Although other riders' Worlds records may mark them out as more likely for success, Marco Pinotti's strong 2008 season means that he should be considered as a dark horse for the elite time trial on Thursday.
The 32-year-old took his third Italian championship earlier this season and also won the final stage of the Giro d'Italia, a 28.5-kilometre race against the clock. His strong performances in other races – including overall victory in the Tour of Ireland, third in the Tour of Romandie, ninth overall in the Tour of Denmark, fourteenth in the Tour of Missouri and fifteenth in the Tour du Pays Basques [as well as high stage placings in many races] show his season-long consistency. These results and his increased confidence suggest that he will improve considerably on the 17th, 20th and 14th places he achieved in the last three editions of the Worlds.
The race being held in Italy will also ensure much greater fan support, even if he said that he would be determined to do well regardless where the race will be held. "I am always motivated when I wear the national jersey," the friendly Team Columbia rider stated. "This year, there will be more eyes on me, but this is a motivation. I don't get crazy about it, though - I always do my best. I don't really need this kind of incentive to perform."
Pinotti subscribes to the view that aiming for a perfect individual performance on the day rather than opening targeting a specific place is the way to go. "My goal is to ride at my best. Because it is a world championship, the competition is perhaps even higher than the Olympics because there are more elite people doing the time trial. So the competition is a little bit higher and everybody is hoping for a top five or a top 10.
"But the differences will be very close. If you don't count Cancellara [now not riding – ed.] or Zabriskie, who should be the favourites, all the others can achieve a podium place. Like Clement last year. The medal would be a dream come true. But my aim is to do my best, and the results I would then say depend on the others."
Looking back at the season, Pinotti said he was very happy with what he achieved. He fits in well with Columbia, both in terms of his positivity and friendliness, and also his strong anti-doping ethos. Feeling at home with the team has led to some good performances, and the general feeling of contentment in Bob Stapleton's setup.
"I am very happy with my season," he stated. I am pleased because I won that stage in the Giro, I deserved that for a long time. I achieved it in the time trial so for me it is the cherry on the cake. Also, I won again the Italian national time trial championship, the third time in the last four years, and I also did some good results in other races. In Romandie I got a third place overall. I raced well, without having moments of weakness during the season."
Another high point was of course the Tour of Ireland victory he achieved at the end of August. Pinotti swooped on the tough final leg, soloing clear from the other contenders to place third on the stage and overtake Russell Downing (Pinarello CandiTV) in the general classification. That had special significance for him. "I am delighted with this, it really caps things off," he told Cyclingnews afterwards. "It is my first stage race victory so I am very pleased. It was already my best pro season but this is really something special."
Missing the Olympics, preparing for the Worlds
Despite Pinotti's strong form in events such as the Giro and the Italian national championships, he was passed over for one of the races he would like to have targeted. "The only thing I missed from the season was that I wasn't selected for the Olympic Games," he told Cyclingnews. "I would have liked to go. I was told that the course was too hard from me, but I would have liked to have seen it for myself."
Pinotti watched that race on television and came away afterwards feeling that he could have contributed something to the Italian campaign there. "The parcours was hard, but if I look at the average speed on the climb, on the first part of the circuit, it was more than 38 km/h. So it was tough, but maybe not too difficult. From what I have done in the last years in Italy in the time trial, I think I could do the time trial and do my job in the road race."
He's known as a fair, balanced person, and is quick to point out that he is not blasting the national selectors. "It is not my job to choose the riders," he added. "The Italian team also did a good job, but for my personal feelings… I don't want to criticise the selection, but it was just disappointing for myself."
The Worlds represents a chance for Pinotti to capitalise on his strengths against the clock and to chase a big end of season result. After the Tour of Ireland he went to the Tour of Missouri and while a puncture during the time trial there messed up chances of performing on that stage, he rode well in support of his teammates Michael Rogers, Michael Barry and Mark Cavendish. He was 15th overall and continued his solid form. He planned specific time trial training after that, with stage races such as the Tours of Ireland and Missouri representing his main preparation.
"This kind of events are important," he explained to Cyclingnews. "They give you the endurance and the ability to stay hungry for a long time. In the second half of the season, training is more mentally difficult. Sometimes it is easier to race. Of course, you also need some specific [time trial] training, but not a huge amount."
Columbia, testing and future plans
Pinotti competed with T-Mobile in 2007 and remained with the squad when the title changed to High Road and then Columbia this season. He's very happy with the setup there. "The atmosphere is very special. Last year was good, this year has been beautiful. I have different teammates in every race I go to, but each time the atmosphere is good. So we don't have any problems.
"I think it is because of our strong anti-doping policy…because of that, everybody feels good about his teammates and working with them. I think this is very good to develop in a team like this, for young riders this is perfect."
It is also good for backers. In the run-up to this year's Tour, three teams with strong anti-doping programmes confirmed new sponsors. Columbia came on board for High Road, while Garmin and Saxo Bank stepped up for the Slipstream and CSC squads. Pinotti believes the internal testing means is more likely to attract sponsorship for such teams, as they are more credible.
"I think it is like private company, they need a quality certificate," he stated. "That is not required by the law, but 10 or 15 years ago they started to mark quality for this process in order to show to the customer that they had a good processing, good transportation and everything.
"For teams, in ways the first customer is the sponsor. So they have to show the sponsor that from this side, they take all the action that they can to prevent problems from doping. The approach now should not just be passive, like telling the riders not to take anything, but actually pro-active. That is what this team has been doing."
Columbia has taken a huge number of wins this season, and Pinotti believes that this shows the situation in the sport is improving. "This year in particular the talents came out," he said. "We are winning so many races. We have strong, talented riders, but perhaps that wouldn't be enough 10 or 15 years ago in the peloton."
He has a contract for 2009 and would like to stay on at last a year after that. His hope next year is to ride the Tour de France once again, but his own national Tour is also important to him. "I just hope that the Giro is a little bit less hard [than this season] and has more time trialing. I will have a break after the Giro di Lombardia, and look at my plans for next season."
Before then, doing his utmost in the Worlds time trial is the priority. Pinotti is a quiet-spoken rider who knuckles down and gets on with the job at hand; he's not brash, not showy, being is a fine ambassador for the sport and one of the most approachable riders in the peloton. A good result in the Worlds would be welcomed by many, especially the Columbia teammates he has ridden strongly for this year.
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Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net