How a farmer’s son, a back­hand deal and an un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in the rid­ers took a small-time steel builder to the fore­front of pro­fes­sional cycling

Cyclist - - Contents - Words JAMES SPENDER Pho­tog­ra­phy FRED MACGREGOR

‘Itry to ride on the top tube like Froome. I can do it, but it’s not easy. Ev­ery­thing about it is bet­ter though. When he first did it last year they said he de­cided on the day, but I know that he was prac­tis­ing and in the wind-tun­nel long be­fore, work­ing out the most aero­dy­namic po­si­tions. But still, when I see him ride like this, I am afraid.’ For a man claim­ing to be ap­pre­hen­sive of speed on two wheels, Fausto Pinarello’s en­trance is a cu­ri­ous one. On my ar­rival at Pinarello’s HQ – a build­ing with the char­ac­ter of an in­vad­ing chrome-glass space­ship in the midst of an in­dus­trial es­tate – I have been ush­ered through a mood­ily lit foyer into a cav­ernous, blind­ingly white hangar. There, over the zizzing of air-tools and the beep­ing of fork­lifts, a hu­man-shaped blur rushes into view to the un­mis­tak­able whine of an elec­tric mo­tor. He’s rid­ing a Seg­way.

‘It does 21kmh,’ says Fausto, in ref­er­ence to that most in­evitable of ques­tions. ‘This is my sec­ond one. The first I killed in three years. I did 5,000km around the fac­tory on it – now imag­ine if I had to walk. Some­times I even com­mute in on this. I live very nearby. But this place re­ally is my house.’

That dad built

You’ll get pretty far down the list of Ital­ian bi­cy­cle archetypes be­fore you find one that Pinarello – both man and com­pany – doesn’t em­body. Only there is a twist. Yes, founder Gio­vanni ‘Nani’ Pinarello was a mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful racer, the eighth of 12 broth­ers from work­ing-class farm­ing stock who learnt the rudi­ments of build­ing steel frames at the age of 15. But from there his path­way to suc­cess came through un­usual means, and he founded his com­pany in even stranger cir­cum­stances.

A promis­ing ju­nior, Nani failed to make a mark in the pro pelo­ton un­til 1951, when he came dead last in the Giro d’italia. At the time, as with the Tour’s lanterne rouge, win­ning the maglia nera was con­sid­ered a huge hon­our. So it was that Nani Pinarello be­came a house­hold name – all the more so when the race’s or­gan­is­ers put paid to the black jer­sey the fol­low­ing year, claim­ing tac­tics were get­ting out of hand. Rid­ers were hid­ing in barns, de­lib­er­ately punc­tur­ing their tyres and rid­ing on de­spite hor­ren­dous in­juries just for the chance to fin­ish at the back. In­evitably, though, Nani’s ‘fame’ was short-lived and the fol­low­ing year he was asked by his team, Bot­techia, to step down in ex­change for 100,000 lire. A tal­ented rider named Pasqualino Fornara had just been re­leased by Bot­techia’s arch-ri­val, Bianchi, and the team wanted him to ride the 1952 Giro in Nani’s place.

Heartbreaking as it must have been, the 29-year-old re­solved to use the money to open a bike shop in his home town of Tre­viso, in which the com­pany still re­sides, and in 1953 Ci­cli Pinarello was born. ‘By the 1970s and 80s my fa­ther was sell­ing 30,000 bi­cy­cles a year,’ says Fausto. ‘But the big break­through mo­ment for us was the Colum­bus SLX Mon­tello bike. It cost one mil­lion lire, which in 1985 was a good month’s wages.’

In a shrewd move, Pinarello spon­sored In­dian-amer­i­can Alexi Gre­wal in the 1984 Olympic Road Race, and Gre­wal obliged by ped­alling a Mon­tello to an ex­cit­ing vic­tory, nar­rowly beat­ing Cana­dian Steve Bauer. The replica and com­mem­o­ra­tive mod­els all but sold them­selves, and overnight Pinarello be­came one of the most prized mar­ques in Italy.

He who dares

That might sound like a stroke of luck, but Pinarello has al­ways sought to make its own. While Pinarello se­nior had built steel frames as a teenager for lo­cal brand Paglianti, th­ese were largely city bikes, so recog­nis­ing his own short­com­ings as a race bike telaista he em­ployed oth­ers to make his prod­ucts. What he did know, how­ever, was the value of good mar­ket­ing, and he recog­nised the pro pelo­ton as the best ve­hi­cle for achiev­ing it.

Within seven years Pinarello was spon­sor­ing its first pro team, Mainetti, and in 1961 it had its first high-pro­file win at the in­au­gu­ral ‘ju­nior’ Tour de France, the Tour de l’avenir (with Ital­ian am­a­teur Guido De Rosso). Two Tour stages fol­lowed in 1967 with Marino Basso, then a 1975 Giro win by Fausto Ber­toglio, but it was the Vuelta/giro dou­ble in 1981 by Gio­vanni Battaglin that kicked off more than three decades of as­tound­ing dom­i­nance.

‘The big break­through mo­ment was the Colum­bus SLX Mon­tello bike. It cost one mil­lion lire, which in 1985 was a good month’s wages’

‘I’ll show you the bike,’ says Fausto, lead­ing the way past great racks of Dogma frames and hun­dreds of forks to be­neath the fac­tory’s mez­za­nine level. ‘The’ bike turns out to be a col­lec­tion, which Fausto ex­plains has been pulled from the archives for an­other Pinarello-spon­sored en­ter­prise, the Gran­fondo Pinarello, 20 years to the good and count­ing.

‘Battaglin rode this on the queen climb of the 1981 Giro, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo [Stage 19], and that stage de­cided the race. It is a very hard climb, so fa­ther and the me­chanic de­cided to a make a triple chain­set, which they pre­pared the night be­fore by hand,’ he says, point­ing at a Pinarello pan­tographed chain­set. Whether it was the chain­set, the legs or a com­bi­na­tion of both, Battaglin was able to drift away from ri­val Giuseppe Saronni in a move that would ul­ti­mately pave the way to the maglia rosa and dou­ble Grand Tour glory. ‘He did the dou­ble but we did the triple that day.’

Thirty-six years on and Pinarello’s pal­marès reads more like a list of races in gen­eral than spe­cific race vic­to­ries. Wins at Paris-roubaix and the men’s Tour of Flan­ders still elude the com­pany, but it’s more than made up for with World Cham­pi­onships (Diana Zil­iute and Rui Costa, road race, 1998 and 2013; Wig­gins and Vasil Kiryienka, time-trial, 2014 and 2015), a huge haul of Tour points jer­seys from Erik Za­bel around the turn of the cen­tury, two Hour records (Miguel In­durain, 1994; Wig­gins 2015), and the small mat­ter of 14 Tour de France vic­to­ries. Ad­mit­tedly, a few of In­durain’s win­ning bi­cy­cles were ac­tu­ally made by Dario Pe­goretti and only re­badged as Pinarel­los, but Fausto meets a com­ment sug­gest­ing as much with a shrug and a smile. ‘This is what they all did then – cus­tom bikes.’

East­ern prom­ise

Fausto Pinarello started work­ing full time at the com­pany aged 25, in 1988, the year Pe­dro Del­gado won Pinarello’s first Tour. He took over the reins in the early 2000s, en­joy­ing some the com­pany’s most il­lus­tri­ous years. Again, some luck. And this time he agrees.

‘I can say I’m lucky be­cause I al­ways find the best peo­ple. Like in the same way you meet the love of your li fe’

‘I said to my fa­ther about 10 years be­fore he died, one of the last times he could un­der­stand me, “Hey, Papa, I think you are the luck­i­est guy in the world!” He asks me why and tell him, “Be­cause you have some­one like me that came to work for you at 17 years old, and I take on the com­pany and I try to make it grow.” There is Ernesto [Col­nago], but he wants to sell. There is De Rosa, the three broth­ers, but they must at this mo­ment look to strangers to take over the busi­ness started by their fa­ther. Wilier I think are just more of a com­mer­cial com­pany any­way. Then oth­ers like Fon­dri­est and Battaglin, they came from rac­ing back­grounds maybe with not that much busi­ness acu­men. Mer­ckx said to me once that his son Axel made more money than he ever did.

‘I am 55 now and to do this for 39 years you need pas­sion, and luck. Good peo­ple to tell you to go this way and that way. That’s why I can say I’m lucky be­cause I al­ways find the best peo­ple. Like in the same way you meet the love of your life. Luck.’

Some of those ‘best peo­ple’, by Fausto’s own ad­mis­sion, have been found in the Far East. He be­lieves Pinarello was the last big Ital­ian out­fit to leave the lo­cal work­shops in favour of Tai­wan in 2005, and while he does ad­mit a soft spot for Ital­ian-made steel, he sees no rea­son to look any­where other than abroad for bikes to­day.

‘If I could I’d love to make steel bikes here again, but to make them like we used to 50 years ago is not pos­si­ble for a com­pany our size. Small com­pa­nies can do this, but they can count the frames they make per day on their fin­gers. So no, it wasn’t hard to move pro­duc­tion to the Far East. They learned car­bon tech­nol­ogy from the Amer­i­cans, and now they are the best.

‘Peo­ple say you can’t do cus­tom this way, but look, we have 14 sizes of Dogma, and those same peo­ple can­not say they can do mono­coque con­struc­tion, which for me is the best. This is what I al­ways say: I don’t care where the tech­nol­ogy comes from for my prod­ucts, I just want the best tech­nol­ogy, and right now that comes from Tai­wan.’

The bike’s the busi­ness

To­day, the Pinarello fa­cil­ity stands as a mon­u­ment to the new age of cy­cle man­u­fac­ture. On one side of the fac­tory floor frames and forks de­liv­ered from Pinarello’s part­ner fac­to­ries in the Far East are un­boxed and racked up, still in their raw matt black state.

‘This is what I al­ways say: I just want the best tech­nol­ogy, and right now that comes from Tai­wan’

A team then scru­ti­nises each piece, re­jects any­thing with a flaw that can’t be pol­ished out then passes them over to be prepped and painted.

The other half of the space is given over to the stor­ing of com­po­nents, such as groupsets and wheels, as­sem­bly of bikes for shops or events and the stor­age of Pinarello’s fin­ished prod­ucts. It’s an in­cred­i­bly slick op­er­a­tion of lab­o­ra­tory-level fas­tid­i­ous­ness, and while some misty-eyed cy­clists will lament this set-up, oth­ers will see it as cut­ting edge.

‘We have about 500 frames in pro­duc­tion at any one time. We ship 1,500 frames per month from here [lower-end mod­els are asssem­bled in fac­to­ries in the Far East] and, cur­rently, 99% of those are Dogma F10s. Its suc­cess is in­cred­i­ble. We have two de­sign­ers here and two in the UK who do our CFD – they also work for Bri­tish Cycling – and they’ve helped lower the weight and make it more aero­dy­namic, but im­prov­ing on the F8 was hard.

‘Peo­ple talk about go­ing lighter, but I say to do that safely you have to re­duce the sizes of the tubes, and that would be like go­ing back 10 years, all for the sake of 100g. We ar­rived at 800g, 850g and for me that is enough. I want to be able to sleep at night.’

Fausto says that in 2015 the com­pany shipped 10,400 Dogma F8s, but this year he ex­pects the F10 to eclipse 13,000 units. All top-end Dog­mas come through here, from the disc brake F8X to the new K10S Disk with its elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled rear shock and the ex­tra-light Dogma F10X, as rid­den by Chris Froome this year. Which begs the ques­tion, why should Froome ride a lighter bike when he al­ready needs to add bal­last to a reg­u­lar F10 to hit the 6.8kg UCI weight min­i­mum?

‘He is al­ways look­ing for the light­est bike that is also the safest – that is the racer’s mind­set,’ says Fausto mat­ter-of-factly. ‘It’s a men­tal thing.’

Fausto’s ex­pres­sion is one that sug­gests he’s sure the logic is in there some­where, but given the ride Team Sky have given him as he has handed out their bikes, plus mil­lions in spon­sor­ship, it’s a recipe that def­i­nitely works.

‘We ship 1,500 frames per month from here and 99% of those are Dogma F10s. Its suc­cess is in­cred­i­ble’

As with most big brands, Pinarello has frames made over­seas and uses its Ital­ian HQ pri­mar­ily for R&D, as­sem­bly and paint­ing. Here a painter masks off a Bolide time-trial frame’s de­tails ready for the next coat

Buried at the back of the fa­cil­ity is one of the world’s great­est bike col­lec­tions. It runs from Nani Pinarello’s 1950s rac­ers through to In­durain’s leg­endary Banesto bikes and Froome’s Tour-win­ning steeds. And Fausto can tell you a story about every sin­gle one

The Pinarello fa­cil­ity deals mainly with high-end Dog­mas and Bolide time-trial bikes. Every frame is in­spected in­di­vid­u­ally be­fore be­ing sent through paint and as­sem­bly. Even Team Sky’s, which come off the same racks as ev­ery­one else’s

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