Pinotti nails Romandie prologue from precocious Sagan

HTC-Columbia's Marco Pinotti won the prologue of the Tour de Romandie in Porrentruy, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

In a shocker of a prologue at the Tour de Romandie Tuesday evening, HTC-Columbia’s Marco Pinotti took a one-second victory over precocious Slovak rookie Peter Sagan of Liquigas, while the promising second-year French pro Jeremy Roy came in third.

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Pinotti nails it at Romandie prologue | AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

Those three men left all of the Swiss race’s star attractions far behind except for Michael Rogers, Pinotti’s Australian teammate, who slotted into fourth place, three seconds back.

“I was coming off three weeks of training,” Rogers told VeloNews, “so I was not too hopeful today. It’s particularly hard to come straight back into a race where you need a lot of speed.”

Pinotti, in contrast, had come straight from the Ardennes classics, and was fully motivated for Tuesday’s prologue in Porrentruy, Switzerland. “It was a surprise for me to win because I was one of the earlier starters and I thought my time would be beaten,” said Pinotti, who hadn’t won a race since he took the Italian national time trial title almost a year ago.

Pinotti finished far ahead of the riders expected to be on the podium. The respective world No. 1 and No. 2, Philippe Gilbert (Omega-Lotto) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Épargne), didn’t make it into the top 10. And upcoming grand tour contenders Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) were respectively 24th, 38th and 77th.

Pinotti covered the difficult 4.3km circuit in 5:17.57 at 48.833 kph, less than a second faster than the upstart Sagan. The 20-year-old Slovakian, who won two stages of last month’s Paris-Nice and was fifth in that prologue, is clearly destined for a great future.

Just after finishing his ride Tuesday, Sagan didn’t know what time he had done. When VeloNews told him he was just a second behind Pinotti, Sagan used the one four-letter-word he knows in English. “F—k,” he said. “Only one second.” Then he added, “I’m only second for now. How many more riders to go?” When shown the start list with another 40 to come, he shrugged, indicating he wouldn’t remain in second. But he did.

Pinotti, who’s 14 years older than the neophyte Sagan, told VeloNews that he gets better with age because of three main things. “I am now on a team where the ambiance at the races is very good. I am training much better, much harder. Perhaps before I didn’t train so smart. And I feel more mature, especially after my first child [Davide Pinotti] was born last week”

Talking about this race, the reigning and four-time Italian time trial champion said, “I really like the Tour de Romandie. I already finished on the podium (third overall) two years ago. So I will try to hold on to the yellow jersey for as long as I can. Especially as there’s a longer time trial on Friday.”

Pinotti said that his performance showed his team’s strength in that this was the third year in a row that a Columbia rider has won the Romandie prologue: Mark Cavendish won it in 2008 and Frantisek Rabon last year. “We have a very high technical level,” he said.

The Italian’s opening ride was impressive, but he may end this six-day UCI ProTour race riding for Rogers, the logical HTC team leader, who was rightfully proud of his fourth-place ride. “It was a hard course,” Rogers said about a circuit that contained a tricky climb on cobblestones through the medieval town, before leaving the shelter of the crowd-lined streets, to tackle a long false flat into the green countryside.

“There was a brutal wind on that stretch,” said Rogers, who showed the power he has regained this season with a series of fine results: first at Spain’s Ruta del Sol, second at Corsica’s Critérium International and third in Italy’s Montepaschi Strade Bianchi.

Other notable rides came from Team Sky sprinter Greg Henderson (seventh, six seconds back), Team RadioShack’s Haimar Zubeldia (10th at the same time), and Cavendish (18th at nine seconds). The British star, who’s trying to see where his form lies before heading to next month’s Tour of California, is hoping he can win at lease one stage this week.

That probably won’t happen on Wednesday. Stage 1, 175.6km from Porrentruy to Fleurier, contains two Cat. 1s and one Cat. 2 climb in the Jura mountains, for over 7,000 feet (2200 meters) of climbing. That should be fine for the sprinter’s teammates Pinotti and Rogers, while Cavendish’s best chance of a victory may come on Thursday at Fribourg.

Full results

Prologue – Top 10
1. Marco Pinotti (Ita), HTC-Columbia, at 5:17
2. Peter Sagan (Svk), Liquigas-Doimo, at 0:01
3. Jérémy Roy (Fra), Française Des Jeux, at 0:04
4. Michael Rogers (Aus), HTC-Columbia, at 0:04
5. Rick Flens (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:05
6. Christophe Moreau (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:06
7. Gregory Henderson (NZl), Sky, at 0:06
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze), Liquigas-Doimo, at 0:07
9. Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:07
10. Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa), RadioShack, at 0:07

Full results

1. Marco Pinotti (Ita), HTC-Columbia, in 5:17
2. Peter Sagan (Svk), Liquigas-Doimo, at 0:01
3. Jérémy Roy (Fra), Française Des Jeux, at 0:03
4. Michael Rogers (Aus), HTC-Columbia, at 0:03
5. Rick Flens (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:04
6. Christophe Moreau (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:05
7. Gregory Henderson (NZl), Sky, at 0:06
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze), Liquigas-Doimo, at 0:06
9. Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:06
10. Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa), Radioshack, at 0:06