"Where is Fausto?" When you spend a few hours at the side of Fausto Pinarello, the current chairman of the Italian bike brand that has his name, you realise that this is a common question. He is a free soul, and it’s difficult to follow him. If you don't know where he is, you just have to listen, like someone who discovers a chameleon-like animal in the jungle, thanks to the sounds it makes: his mobile phone keeps receiving messages all the time with the sound of the typical horn of the cycling caravan. The messages may be from someone in his company, family or a cyclist with whom he has a constant relationship via WhatsApp.
We are in Barcelona at the start of the Vuelta a España. It is a special day because this third Grand Tour of the year starts with a team time trial, one of the disciplines that Fausto is most passionate about. He’s visiting the Ineos Grenadiers’ bus, and he is constantly losing himself in his small world, among the bikes and the staff. In a few minutes, the riders will get on them to recon the urban circuit. Fausto moves around as if it were his home – in fact, it is his home, as he has been part of that environment since 2010 when Pinarello became a sponsor of the then Team Sky. He appears on the scene and then suddenly disappears to have a private conversation or say hello to someone. He knows a lot of people, a lot of people know him. And his phone keeps sounding.
Ineos Grenadiers team and Pinarello have now had a thirteen-year relationship in which both parties have innovated, made mistakes and challenged each other, winning twelve Grand Tours (seven Tour de France, two Giro d'Italia, two Vuelta a España) and three Monuments (Milan-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège). Fausto likes to describe it as “the most successful relationship." Rouleur had the chance to sit down with him and learn more about his history.
An Italian DNA
“It has always been marked by the essence of Pinarello, which has remained the same since my father founded it. The aim has always been to make the best racing bike," he says. Perhaps this obsession has to do with the fact that his father, Giovanni Pinarello, named him Fausto, in memory of Fausto Coppi, because he was his gregario during his racing years. When he retired, he started making bikes with the idea of getting the best bike for potential winners of the Giro d'Italia, the biggest thing for an Italian.
"My father would have wanted me to be a cyclist because I had the name of a cyclist, but I was more into motorbikes, smoking, drinking," remembers Fausto. “When I was 17, I started painting. I liked to play with colours. Until one day, I realised that I had to dedicate myself to making bikes because it was the only job I could do because I carry my father's DNA, and that's the most important thing."
This obsession to reach for excellence has allowed them to be a brand associated with great victories. Pinarello, to date, has won 16 Tour de France with Pedro Delgado, Miguel Induráin, Jan Ullrich, Bjarne Riis, Oscar Pereiro, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. No other brand has achieved this number of overall victories in the French Grand Tour.
Indurain’s Espada as a turning point
Pinarello's history in modern racing dates back to the 1990s, when the Italian brand collaborated with the Reynolds team, led by Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain at that time. It was a powerful gamble from the Italian company, as sponsoring Indurain would mean investing 30% of the company, which was still a risky thing to do. But it worked out well. "We won the Tour de France working with different materials, which is an area in which I have a lot of experience, especially in aluminium and carbon," says Fausto.
This commitment to innovation meant that in 1993, they started using the wind tunnel for the first time to work on aerodynamics. From there came one of the most iconic innovations resulting from the relationship between Indurain and Pinarello: the Espada bike, in which they achieved a very fast bike with improvements in the material (carbon) and a very aerodynamic position. “Indeed, Espada is an iconic bike. It's something different," says Fausto. "And from that time, I learned a lot about materials, carbon fibre, aerodynamics, position, geometry, speed."
After the Reynolds era, Pinarello continued in pro cycling with Banesto, Fassa Bartolo and Team Telekom, focusing especially on the development of bikes for time trials. In 2014, the relationship with Movistar ended after almost 40 years of working together. From then on, Pinarello would establish an exclusive relationship with Team Sky and, after that, Ineos Grenadiers within the framework of the WorldTour.
Undoubtedly, all that experience in the 90s somehow resonates with the work that Pinarello develops today with Ineos Grenadiers riders and it is impossible not to draw a connection between the time trial bikes with which Miguel Indurain won stages such as that mythical one in Luxembourg in 1994 — "L'Extraterrestre" was the headline in L'Equipe the following day— and with the latest innovations from the Italian brand: the custom-built bike, using 3D printing, with which Filippo Ganna managed to break the hour record on October 10, 2022.
"Maybe the time trial has been the field where we have been able to innovate more, and we have been able to get more knowledge for the company, to know more about the speed, the dynamics. But this process is easy if you can count on good cyclists like Miguel Indurian, Jan Ullrich, Abraham Olano, and many more like Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Ganna. So maybe it's easier to make a good time trial bike for a good rider," assures Fausto Pinarello.
A British job
Pinarello's presence in high-level competitive cycling began a new chapter in the first decade of the 2000s when it became an official supplier to Team Sky after having been a partner of British Cycling's junior track teams the previous years. The fact that British Cycling became a partner of Team Sky opened the door for Pinarello in that new team. "I showed them the new frames I was working on with the internal wiring, and they found it interesting, and since I was also very interested in being a sponsor. And then a few days later, I remember I was on holiday in Sardinia, they called me, I flew to the UK and signed the contract with Team Sky." That contract was a turning point for what was to follow: one of the longest and most successful relationships in contemporary professional cycling and the development of two of the brand's flagship models, the Pinarello Dogma F, for road, and the Bolide TT, for time trials. Since then, Pinarello has delivered three hundred bikes to the team every year, and they continue to work and innovate together.
"Without a doubt, working with a professional team as a sponsor is important for your company because it takes you to the next level, because it forces you to develop new technology and overcome challenges. At the moment, we have six versions of the Dogma, four time trial bikes, cyclocross bikes and now mountain bikes," says Fausto with a smile. He confesses that making mountain bikes was not in his plans, but if you have the opportunity to work with riders like Tom Pidcock and Pauline Ferrand-Prèvot, can you say no? "Plus, you get feedback from the riders to improve the bikes. Some of them I talk to directly, and they send me WhatsApps about what they need or what they think, although not all riders are able to give technical feedback, of course. In this case, in developing the mountain bike, Pidcock was crucial." Actually, Pinarello developed both a cyclocross bike and a mountain bike based on his needs. The DOGMA XC that Pidcock and Ferrand-Prèvot won at their last World Championships in Glasgow was developed and made from scratch in eight months, just in time for the Glasgow Worlds. "Pidcock is a guy of few words, but he is very precise in his explanations," smiles Fausto.
But is it really profitable for a brand like Pinarello to sponsor a cycling team and develop new bikes? The answer seems to be yes, according to Federico Sbrissa, Pinarello's chief marketing officer, who was also around: "Actually we are selling more bikes now since 2010 and we have expanded markets in the USA and Asia." When asked if anyone has bought Ganna's hour record bike, following UCI’s rule that all the new models must be marketed, Fauto replays that "at the moment there is a reservation for a frame that has been put on the website," but he has not revealed the identity of that potential buyer.
Despite the success of a bicycle in a competition or a race, the UCI rules must be followed, which oblige any new model developed in a competition to be available on the market. Pinarello does not see this as an obstacle. "We think it's very cool that people can buy the same bike with which Pidcock won a world championship," says Fausto, who recalls some episodes that didn't go so well. For example, when the UCI did not authorise the time trial bike used by Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich in 1997. "We learned a lot from that experience," he remembers.
But for all this to be possible, being capable of building a bike and planning its production is paramount, an aspect that Pinarello is very clear about. "Now we can have a new bike ready in three months if necessary because we have created a working relationship with Ineos that allows us to do so," says Fausto. "But sometimes you have to struggle with another element: delivery dates. Fausto is not good at this because he always wants to get the best bike possible," replies Sbrissa, to which Fausto shrugs his shoulders and waves his hands, like saying: "I'm like that. What can I do?”
Despite the success of the relationship, there is a clause in the contract between Ineos and Pinarello that assures them a certain amount of freedom on both sides. The British team calls it "product validation" and according to John Allert, Ineos Grenadiers' managing director, it says that "the team has the freedom to use another brand if it doesn't suit us. It's something we have with all the brands we work with."
The next steps
Looking at the bikes Ineos would use in that first stage at Vuelta a España, one can wonder what else can be done to improve them and if there is really room still for significant innovations. Fausto says yes. “The bikes can be made lighter, for instance. It's possible, but I prefer to make bikes that are between 6.8kg and 7kg, not less," he assures emphatically. “If we launch lighter bicycles on the market, they are likely to break if they are used by heavy people, common people. For me, safety is crucial, and it’s a non-negotiable thing for all users. I want to be able to sleep at night."
He also points out that the bikes are able to be faster thanks to changes in geometry that have been introduced in recent years. "Geometry is getting more and more aggressive every year. The bikes are faster, you ride lower and with narrower handlebars," says the Italian chairman, who is already looking ahead to the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. They will continue to work with the Ineos riders and on a new bike for Ganna to achieve maximum results at the Olympic Games.
To this end, they have taken note of the experience of the Glasgow World Championships and the Vuelta time trial. Each race and each stage is a test to take notes and improve. And Fausto Pinarello likes to be involved. He still looks at the bikes with curiosity and empathy, as if he is looking for something he hasn't found yet. "For me, Pinarello as a brand is a combination of tech plus heart."