|Aqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo for the Giro
Mario Cipollini (Ita)
Roberto Conti (Ita)
Martin Derganc (Slo)
Cristian Gasperoni (Ita)
Gabriele Colombo (Ita)
Giovanni Lombardi (Ita)
Michele Scarponi (Ita)
Mario Scirea (Ita)
Guido Trenti (Usa)
The official adjective is resplendent, and Mario Cipollini has never been more so than this year, whether dressed in the unforgettable "zebrato" of his new team, or gleaming in his World Cup leader's whites at this season's Tour of Flanders, The Lion King has never looked so good.
Super Mario has made his longtime dream of winning in Milan-San Remo come true in grand style this season, and added to it a remarkable win in Ghent-Wevelgem featuring a surprising and delightful solo bridge up to a breakaway to the surprise and dismay of George Hincapie and Fred Rodriguez who thought they had it in the bag until they saw Cipollini's inimitable toothsome grin.
A card carrying Tremendous Champion, Cipollini is the most successful rider in the peloton today with over 170 career wins. He won his first stage in the Giro in 1989, and since then has won at least a stage every year with the exception of 1993 and 1994, and currently holds an impressive total of 34 stage wins in Italy's biggest bike race. He is only 7 wins away from the all time record number of Giro stage wins, currently held by Alfredo Binda, and if Mario wins four stages a year, as he did in 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001, he is only two years away from the title.
With some of his trusted help from the red train days, a few of the boys from the old Cantina-Tollo team, some veteran help from the likes of Giovanni Lombardi and a little fairy dust, he should be able to clean it up this year in the Giro, and I for one, am on the edge of my seat to see it.
I'll leave you all with a charming story told to me by one of our readers at The Daily Peloton from this year's Ghent-Wevelgem:
"Cipollini is flashy and bigger than life, but there are some things that never get written about in the cycling magazines.
At the start of the Gent-Wevelgem race in Gent's Citadel Park, there was a small boy in a wheelchair along the barriers and he was trying to get autographs from the riders, but being low to the ground, he was wasn't having much luck. Cipo rode past him on the way in to the sign-on but he must have noticed him because, as he went to ride out, he pulled over to where the young boy was sitting. Cipo got off his bike, kneeled down next to the boy, put his arm around him and motioned for the boy's mom to take a picture. She was completely unprepared and he patiently waited while she fumbled with her camera. After the picture, Cipo signed the boy's autograph book and took his cycling cap out of his jersey pocket and gave it to the boy. The kid's face was glowing. It was a touching moment. It was a gesture done away from any reporters or TV cameras. I remembered this scene as I later watched the Lion King cross the finish line, arms raised in victory.
It wasn't the only time he had demonstrated his championship style that day."
Let's hope we seem some of that style in this year's Giro!