Before I review Marco Pinotti's Book, "The Cycling Professor", I must admit to a bias on my part. I like Marco. In 2010 he wrote an article for Cycle Sport Magazine where he said that mortality was one of his seven keys to performance, which stuck me as very unusual and very interesting. He also called out Danilo DiLuca, so I was curious to speak to him some more. This was back in 2010, when I was much more interested in talking to bike racers. My conversation with Marco was very enjoyable, he was one of the few racers who I ever talked to that said he felt that cheaters were stealing from him. I was glad that he felt robbed.
But after reading Marco's book, I now understand why he must've felt this way. The Italian title of the book is "Il mestiere del ciclista: Una vita in bicicletta, curiosità, esperienze e consigli" (The cyclist's trade: a life in cycling, secrets, experience and advice). The English title of the book is "The Cycling Professor", but the Italian book title feels like a more accurate description of the contents of the book. Marco is unusual in cycling—he has an engineering degree—and Marco is very much an engineer. He identifies problems and challenges and then seeks to formulate a solution. His reaction to other racers cheating is very logical. They gained an advantage, finished ahead of him and took prizes and places away from him.
But the book, like Marco, doesn't dwell on doping issues. (He does devote a chapter to it, but he moves on. His passage about Lance Armstrong is brief, describing only his personal interactions with him, this is very Pinotti. An engineer doesn't speculate, he describes events accurately.) But he is very much to the point about doping: "As to whether doping should be legalized when not harmful to the health of the athletes, well, here there is nothing to discuss. Doping is harmful, end of discussion." In addition to his direct way of thinking about doping Pinotti is also philosophical when it comes to doping, "Beyond the possible effects on physical health, perhaps more importantly, shall we talk about the wounds of the soul?" "It's like hiding toxic waste in your garden hoping, by burying it, to have solved the problem."
Marco also describes the greatest fear of a professional racer, crashing and the subsequent loss of form and earning potential. Marco insightfully describes his crashes and subsequent hospitalization and recovery in compelling detail. He takes you through the doctors, hospitals and rehabbing, and it gives you an idea of the fears and concerns pros have when it comes to potentially losing their lives and livelihoods.
The book serves as an explanation of what concerns racers most. For those who enjoy detail and anecdotes, this book is a gold mine. Pinotti describes his feelings towards certain races, racers, course conditions and logistics of racing with precise detail. He leaves no stone unturned. Marco paint a picture of what it is like to be a professional cyclist in 2013. He explains his routines and reasonings. He describes the hotels and roommates, the buffets and training, his challenges and fears. Marco describes every aspect of being a professional cyclist with the cold eye of an engineer and the reserve of a philosopher.
Andy Shen's review
I recently spoke with my aerodynamics friend Andy Froncioni, inventor of the AeroStick. He told me about meeting Marco Pinotti and devising a pacing strategy for his World’s TT effort, mapping out specific wattages for every part of the course so he’d have something in reserve for the final climb up the Cauberg. He described Pinotti as extremely intelligent and coachable, thoroughly buying into his plan. On race day he followed the numbers to the T, easing into the second time check in fifth place but gaining fast, the podium in sight.
Sadly Pinotti would crash with 13k to go, the grand plan unvalidated. While the story, also recounted in Pinotti’s book, had a sad ending, I was left with an impression of Pinotti as that rare racer smart enough to assimilate scientific analysis and humble enough to completely adopt it.
So I too, must confess a fondness for Pinotti. In fact, he, not the usual Jens or Fabian, is my ‘I’ll quit following cycling if he’s a doper’ guy. It’s foolish to separate clean riders from dirty by their words, but Pinotti has always spoken so simply and unequivocally on the subject that it’s easy to believe him. ‘The Cycling Professor’ reinforces those impressions.
Now, this book isn’t your typical ‘novel’. It’s more a series of anecdotes and behind the scenes stories of the life of a pro. Unlike so many recent cycling books, there’s no arc of descent and redemption. Rather, it’s the story of a kid who loved racing bikes, became a pro, was good at it, and then the lady in red doesn’t derail his career in the second act. Such is the plight of the honest man – the dopers get to write the bodice ripping best selling autobiographies.
It’s unfair, however to imply Pinotti separates riders in a binary clean/dirty manner. He profiles several friends, many of whom are confessed cheats. That one of cycling’s most outspoken anti doping advocates can view dopers as friends, loyal teammates, and humanitarians speaks to the complexity of the issue.
Getting back to that engineering degree, the most remarkable part of Pinotti’s bio is the fact that he earned that degree while riding as a pro. In the book’s most eloquent passage, he refuses to be falsely modest about that achievement, because “when a person is able to do things out of the ordinary and then recounts them as if they were normal, they show themselves as superior to others, as if what they do comes so easily to them.” Pinotti has indeed achieved great things, and reading about them in ‘The Cycling Professor’ is a pleasure. It’s a must read for cycling fans and an antidote to salacious tell all’s dominating the best seller lists.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
Recorded inside the press room at Grenoble Velodrome, we bring you Episode #8 of the Insider from the 2011 Tour de France, our final podcast.
Recorded 1,850 metres above sea level atop the famed Alpe d'Huez, we bring you Episode #7 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France.