Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mario Cipollini wants to ride Giro d'Italia as lead-out man

Mario Cipollini has claimed that he wishes to make a comeback to professional cycling at 45 years of age and ride the Giro d’Italia as lead-out man for young sprint talent Andrea Guardini.

The former world champion first retired in May 2005, before making a brief comeback in the colours of Rock Racing at the 2008 Tour of California. In spite of his advanced years, Cipollini told Gazzetta dello Sport that he wishes to return with the Farnese Vini-Selle Italia team, which rides his MCipollini frames.

“I want to return to racing to come to the Giro and lead out the sprints for Guardini,” said Cipollini, who will turn 45 on March 22. “I feel good, and what is a good sign is that I feel an extreme desire to work hard.”

Seven years on from his original retirement, Cipollini admitted that he is heavier now than in his heyday but insisted that he was still capable of performing at the highest level.

“I weigh 90kg, 8 more than when I was in top condition, but it’s not excess fat, just muscle, especially in my arms and trunk. My legs are perfect. I have some little pains in my knee and back, but my motor is good, and capable of standing up to this gamble.”

Cipollini also grandly explained that he would make himself available for scientific research, “to understand what changes there are in a high-level athlete with the passing of years.” The Tuscan maintains that improved standards of living mean that athletic careers can now extend longer than ever before: “I’m convinced that even someone of 45 years of age isn’t to be dismissed as an athlete.”

Cipollini is thus determined to ride the Giro in the service of Guardini, who was born eleven days after his first stage victory in the race in 1989. “Guardini has talent and races on my bikes. It would really be a beautiful challenge to be one of his domestiques at the Giro, and if I pulled the sprint for him against Cavendish, how many would he win?”

That desire to ride the Giro may well find an insurmountable obstacle in UCI anti-doping regulation, however. Any retired rider who wishes to return to competition must notify the UCI six months in advance and spend at least four months on the anti-doping register before he can compete at international level, as per article 84 of the UCI anti-doping code.

The rule was controversially waived in 2009 to allow Lance Armstrong ride the Tour Down Under on his comeback from retirement. That same year, Michele Bartoli spent six months complying with the whereabouts system before ultimately deciding not to make a comeback with the ISD squad, incidentally the same outfit with which Cipollini wishes to return.

“I want to be as transparent as water and I’m open to extra tests,” Cipollini said. “Ivan Basso laid himself bare and has become an example of credibility. I will ask advice from him about putting science and technology at my disposal.”

Cipollini bristled at the idea that any return to top-level cycling was motivated by financial gain rather than more Corinthian ideals. “[Michael] Schumacher has money, right? And a family? So who made him come back and risk his neck? Armstrong has come back into the fray in triathlons. There are conscious and unconscious factors. Above all, an athlete lives on emotions that are hard to leave behind.”

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