| What a way to shut the mouth of the many people who only three months ago, were calling Mario Cipollini, "a cry baby", after the Italian announced that he was retiring from cycling. Most in the know were sure that this was, just another tantrum from the superstar, and that he was just letting some steam out. You can call his actions what
you like, I call it smart. This guy is, besides being one of, if not the most impressive sprinter of all time, a business man at heart. It is said that in his contract, there's a clause that states that fines given to him for wearing some "eccentric" piece of clothing, while on the bike, will be paid in full by the team sponsor. Everyone, fan or not, pays attention to what the big Tuscan does on and off the bike. Personally, I am a huge fan of the big, exotic parties that only he knows how to organize.
Cipollini probably started to think about the championships in Zolder last year. He came to the spring classics, Milan-San Remo in particular with one goal in mind, to win. Perhaps if he had lost that race, everything would have changed. And after so many attempts and
coming so close last year, Mario conquered La Primavera. Riding on a high, he delighted us with an rare site at Ghent-Wevelgem, doing something he seldom does, bridge a gap, work the break and then just leave the rest of the breakaway wondering, "what the hell was that?". A strong finish a the Tour of Flanders gains his team an invitation to Paris-Roubaix. He decides not to ride, saying "I want to finish this season in good health", but then goes to add, "Furthermore, Paris-Roubaix is run by the Society du Tour de France. Last year, I wasn't invited to take part in the Tour. Consequently, I hardly want to answer an invitation of a company which did not want me a year ago." Can't blame him for speaking his mind. Instead of Paris-Roubaix, he went to party with the boys (and girls!!!) of Formula One.
Back to business at the Giro. His team set him up superbly everytime he asked them to do it, and he didn't let them down, by winning no less than six stages. Wanting to pull the knife out of his back, Monsieur Leblanc forgets that one week with Cipollini at the Tour is better than a second division French team filling the pack
in their national race. And I will not even get into the embarrasment with the Simoni case. Shhhheeesshhhh. But the Acqua & Sapone captain always has the last laugh, and a bright one indeed. Right when the Tour was starting to heat up, Cipollini calls a press conference to announce his retirement from the sport. Citing the lack of support
from his sponsors and the fact that he didn't ride the Tour, were enough reasons to leave the sport he loves.
Away from the spotlight, he continued to work his master plan, letting the Italian National coach, Franco Ballerini, know that if Cipollini was to race the worlds, the entire team had to be at his disposal. He wanted part of his Zebra Herd included in the Azzurri and Ballerini knew that with Mario onboard, the chances
of an Italian becoming World Champion were realistic. After kissing and making up, "Super Mario" went to Spain to prepare himself at the Vuelta, but he just gave an insight to the rest of the world, that whoever had any plans for Zolder, had to deal, first and formost, with the Lion King.
And then, there was last Sunday, October 13th. A day that will always be special in the mind of many cycling fans, around the world. With what was called a "masterpiece" of team riding, the Azzurri, finally, after 10 years, united and launched the self
proclaimed, "fastest man on two wheels" into the Rainbow Jersey, after a very impressive show of teamwork.
We have heard the bashing riders like Lance Armstrong receive. That he doesn't ride enough, he doesn't help teammates, he only wants to win the Tour. Mario Cipollini is no stranger to such criticism. Jean Marie Leblanc's explanation as to why "Cipo" was not invited to the
Tour, was that he never finished before. So WHAT!!!!. Cipollini gets paid, and very well by the way, to win
S-P-R-I-N-T-S, not to haul his carcass up mountain passes. He gets paid to give his sponsors huge amounts of publicity, and if showing up dressed like Juluis Ceasar at
the Tour (with his entire team too), wearing a skinsuit made to replicate what the Pope wore the day he blessed the riders before the start of the Giro last year, or that flashy Tiger suit, or better yet, by not testing positive and splashing the name of his sponsors with mud, then Cipollini gives the people who pay him, a good
return for their money. But he did finish the 1997 Giro d'Italia, in 89th place (3:05:38, behind his teammate, Ivan Gotti) and despite winning stages, he also did some pace making during the early parts of the climbing stages. So if someone wants to complain about him leaving the big tours early, let his sponsors do it. But in the last
13 years, none of them have said a word about it.
Let us not forget, that since 1989, Mario Cipollini has been winning sprints, going against the Baffis, Abdoujaparovs, Kirsipuus, Zabels, Steels, Blijlevens, Svoradas and the new wave of young whippersnapers,
Freires, McEwens, Pettachis, Quarantas, Caspers, etc., and everytime you hear one of these sprinters give an interview, you get the quote: "I was looking for Mario's wheel, that's the place to be".
Mario Cipollini, we salute YOU!!!!!!!
Ride hard, ride fast