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A conversation with Marco Pinotti, on the demise of HTC-Highroad: ‘Some questions need to be answered.’

Like the rest of his Highroad teammates, Marco Pinotti isn't happy that the team is shuttering its doors at the end of the 2011 season after the team was left without a title sponsor.

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2011 Giro d'Italia stage 16: Marco Pinotti
Pinotti at the 2011 Giro. Photo: Graham Watson |

Like the rest of his Highroad teammates, Marco Pinotti isn’t happy that the team is shuttering its doors at the end of the 2011 season after the team was left without a title sponsor.

The 35-year-old veteran has been around the block enough times to know how good they had it at Highroad. And he wonders how cycling’s most winning team cannot find a sponsor.

Pinotti was one of the anchors of the team since joining the squad in 2007 and helped provide a solid core of riders as others came and went on the team over the past five seasons.

VeloNews caught up with Pinotti to gauge his reaction to the team’s demise and to get an update on his recovery from a bad crash at the Giro d’Italia back in May.

Q. Marco, what was your first reaction to the announcement that Highroad would not continue?

A. I really don’t know what to say. It was a big shock that we couldn’t find another sponsorship. It can be a symbol on how the sport is now. Perhaps it is bad timing with how the world economy is as well. Some questions need to be answered. I would like to know if the sponsor was not satisfied or if they didn’t have the money to invest. How could it arrive to this moment? Normally, we should have a sponsor.

Q. Many are wondering how cycling’s most successful team could not secure its future, what does it say about the sport?

A. It appears as something has changed in the sport. If a team gets results, the sponsor should be there. In the past, if there were no results, there would be no sponsor. It’s strange from that point of view. We know that Bob (Stapleton) was working a lot to extend the sponsorship. It looked like we had a good option and it was moving forward. When you provide so much media coverage for a sponsor, I really don’t know what you can do more. Perhaps there can be different reasons. We have had four or five big sponsors to enter the sport in the past few years, not more. It seems that the people who are interested in investing in cycling are the ones who already have a big passion for the sport. Perhaps it shows that it is difficult to show sponsors that cycling is a good business model, maybe there’s no money for that.

Q. When did you hear about the news that the team would be folding?

A. We didn’t hear anything until (last) weekend that things were not going so good. The only news we have is coming from the media.

Q. What will be the fallout of the collapse of the team?

A. In the short term, while it is not good, everyone will be able to move on. All the riders should be able to find teams. In the big picture, it raises some questions: what is going on? Why is the most successful team not have a sponsor? Even if you win 100 races a year, it does not assure you that you will have a sponsor for the future. What can we do to change this situation?

Q. You were one of the veteran members of the team, what did the Highroad team bring to cycling?

A. The team brought a lot of innovation to cycling. It helped to change the sport, to clean up the sport. Like Bob said in an interview, a lot of riders in the peloton have ‘High Road DNA.’ That fact that is it is going away is not good for cycling.

Q. What did you see how it changed the sport?

A. There were many things, using new technology in training, the bikes, diet, nutrition, recovery; there were never-ending improvements. There were small things, too, like the way they planned things. They changed the way of thinking in cycling. I am coming from Italy, where they do things in the traditional way. Highroad was using new ideas to get results. Even things like using video to prepare for a sprint. They were always bringing in new ideas and innovation. There was also an important process of selecting riders for the team. Behind each new rider, there was a long process of how they were selected. Things like values, commitment and ethics were considered. The team was also very good at recruitment. Every year, we had two or three new riders who immediately made an impact. There was a process behind that. We also had a very good staff, the best in the business.

Q. Bob Stapleton was a central figure of the team, what was unique about his way of working?

A. Bob brought new ideas to the sport, a new way of thinking. He came with ideas of how to do things in a better way. He was very passionate and he wanted to change it. He was very good communicator. For sure, I will miss him. I hope to use what I learned from this team to other teams I ride for in the future. I hope that way we can all carry forward Bob’s way of doing things.

Q. The team promoted clean racing, how important is that legacy?

A. From the beginning the team had a clear policy of anti-doping. It was part of the team. We were committed to racing clean. And we wanted to prove that we could win by racing clean. You can see the results of the team were very good. That confirms that racing clean and winning is possible.

Q. What is the feeling among your teammates about finding contracts?

A. I am not worried about a team right now. I know everyone will find a spot. Everyone that was here was part of something special.

Q. Have you selected a new team?

A. I have not chose a new team yet. Me and many others have a lot of teams interested in us to join them. It’s a question of selecting the right team. Most riders shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a job. If I were a manager of a team of another team, I would like to have to more of my riders from Highroad. We were successful and you can be sure there would be no credibility problems, because of the strong anti-doping stance and the high success that we had.

Q. What does your future hold?

A. My immediate goal is to race in the 2012 Olympic Games. I would like to race through the Games next season, and then make a decision about my future. I am confident to race for two more years.

Q. You crashed hard in the Giro d’Italia, how is your recovery coming along?

A. I had to rest and let my body recover. Now it’s a question of how much time I need to regain fitness. I only started riding my bike last week. Today, I rode for the longest I rode since my accident eight weeks ago, about three hours.

Q. When do you expect to return to racing?

A. I just started riding a week ago. I think I can be ready for early September to be back in the races. Now it’s a question of which races I go to, whether it’s in Europe, Canada or China perhaps. I hope to be competing in the Italian races at the end of the season at Lombardia and these races.

Q. Was this your most difficult comeback from a crash?

A. It’s amazing how fast the improvement is. I have never been such at a low level in my career. Normally, when you take a break after a season, you’re off the bike for a few weeks, but you never lose fitness. This time, I have been off the bike for eight weeks. I was six weeks without even walking. I broke the bone in my hip socket. I did an X-ray six weeks ago, and it showed it was a perfect recovery. I started to walk and then I got back on the bike. I consider myself lucky because it could have been worse. It’s been fascinating to see the recovery process of the human body.