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Review of The Cycling Professor by Marco Pinotti

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 7:00pm by schmalz

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.

 

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Nice Write-up
By: Lennert Seatpost
Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:54pm

Andy,

Nice Job. If you get a chance read Domestique: The Real-life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro by CHarlie Wegelius.

Great Read!
By: Milan Clearcoat
Sun, 08/11/2013 - 1:20am

Slaying the badger I have read and it is very good! Had told a couple of my friends about the book!
ebay account for sale

Cycling Books
By: Mathis Stiff
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 7:41pm

Like mikeweb - I'm currently reading Fignon's "We Were Young and Carefree" bio after having read "Slaying the Badger" - kind of makes sense to read them together in a sequence. I've already downloaded "The Cycling Professor" for my Kindle App - so will be reading it soon. Have also recently read "Bad Blood" as well as Tyler Hamilton's "Hidden Race". I think Marco's book might help shed light on some issues I found missing in other books - so I'm looking forward to it.

Seriously ?
By: Rune Grips
Tue, 02/05/2013 - 8:13pm

Just bought the digital version... In all honesty, and I mean that, this book reads as if a fourteen years old boy had written it... Might be the translation, but it reminds of Nijinsky's Switzerland journal entries... (the guy was going nuts)

BTW I have the right to write English as 14 years old boy as it is a foreign language to me... so don't botter folks

Out of curiosity, can you
By: schmalz
Fri, 02/01/2013 - 7:09pm

Out of curiosity, can you name the pros who are engineers?

engineers
By: Monorchid Conconi
Fri, 02/01/2013 - 7:08pm

surprisingly more of them in the peloton than you might guess. i can think of four pros immediately, and i'm sure that to ask around you would come up with an interesting list.

I really like Pinotti as
By: lee3
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 11:41pm

I really like Pinotti as well. I didnt know he wrote this book and will definitely look for it. thanks for the heads up.

It would seem to me that if
By: Wylie Brazeon
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 8:28pm

It would seem to me that if you dope for a certain length of time and it allows you to train/race/recover at a certain level then you will retain some of that advantage even years after stopping. So once you are a doper, you can never really claim to be clean again.

My guess is that things are
By: Andy Shen
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 6:46pm

My guess is that things are slower (slower, maybe not cleaner) now, so a guy like Pinotti can hang. If you read the book you'll see he cherry picks stages or time trials and saves himself for those occasions.

That, or everyone stopped doping on '06 like the affidavits say.

Will check it out!
By: Remigio Seatpost
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 5:53pm

Thanks for the review. Serious question: How does a clean rider do it? I've been pretty much in the camp of "They're all doped!" in the pro peleton.

In the case of Marco, is it a matter of him being able to put up winning results in Time Trials and being able to hang with the group and help teammates in road races, but not being able to pull of big results himself in road races?

I'm also curious what someone like Ashenden thinks about percentage of clean riders in the European peleton. My own guess is that 90% of Tour riders are doped, and close to 100% have doped at some point in their careers.

Sounds very intriguing! I'll
By: mikeweb
Wed, 01/23/2013 - 8:35pm

Sounds very intriguing! I'll have to pick it up. Currently reading the Fignon auto-bio, and that on the heels of 'Slaying the Badger'.

Also, not surprisingly, Pinotti publishes his rides to Strava, so 'Stravites' can add him to their feeds.

Book
By: Charles Tubie
Wed, 01/23/2013 - 8:22pm

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