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SHUNYI, China (VN) — Marco Pinotti (BMC Racing) never thought that China would mark the closing chapter of his career. When he began 15 years ago, Beijing hardly seemed like a place to race bikes 10 years after Tiananmen Square erupted. Instead, after a pro career that included wearing the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey, he is closing to the sound of pounding drums.
“I’m that age. In 1989, I knew what was going on in Tiananmen Square. I was coming home and seeing unfold on TV,” Pinotti told VeloNews. “The world changed, China changed, cycling too. Now we are here racing. Fifteen years are not a lot but it seems like the whole world changed two times over.”
He smoothed his final race number on his jersey while sitting on the curb. A half-hour later, closer to the drummers dressed in red, he would start the first stage of the Tour of Beijing. It has been a long journey for the Italian from Bergamo.
Pinotti won a stage during the 2003 Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) in Spain but really broke through with Bob Stapleton’s Highroad team. In the Giro d’Italia, he helped his teammates win two team time trials, took two stages on his own, and — the dream of any Italian — wore the pink jersey.
When the team folded, Pinotti left for BMC. Allan Peiper joined as a performance manager this season and gave Pinotti a future off the bike. He suggested that he join his budding coaching team, which includes Bobby Julich, instead of continuing for one more season. Pinotti, at 37 years old, decided the time was right to retire.
His racing career is not over yet. He said, “I’m not here as a tourist!” In the last days before leaving for China, Pinotti kept training as if he was heading into the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France.
“I thought the other day when I was training that this could be my last long six-hour ride,” Pinotti added. “I was concentrated, though. I was out with a few amateurs and friends. I was going hard on the climbs, doing my training work, and they said, ‘Ah, come on, even up until the last moment you are at it?’ That’s my routine. That’s how I like to ride. When I quit, I’ll go out to just have fun.”
His last training ride at home fell on the Monday after the Giro di Lombardia. He woke up at 6 a.m. and went out at 7 in the grey, early-morning rain of Bergamo’s outskirts.
“I wanted to get ready for this race; 7 a.m. is one in the afternoon in China. Doing it that way, I had a day extra of getting ready for the time difference.”
On the airplane from Milan, he enjoyed one last benefit of the trade: flying in business class. After dinner and a film, Pinotti pulled up the blanket and slept until the tires touched the runway in Beijing. He traveled directly to the hotel to the city’s north but will have a chance to return to 1989 Tuesday. The final stage of this year’s race, the last of Pinotti’s career, begins in the same Tiananmen Square that captured his imagination as a boy.