Cipollini: still in the party

By Daniel Friebe, Features editor | Wednesday, February 20, 2008 3.01pm

What is it about cyclists and nightclubs? The last time this correspondent bumped into Slipstream-Chipotle rider Tyler Farrar, it was in one such establishment the night after the world road race championships in Stuttgart.

I stress: it was AFTER those championships, and Farrar was neither inebriated nor up to any other kind of mischief. Incidentally, today the 23-year-old from Washington State took over the lead in the Tour of California. And the only thing he was drunk on was success...

It's fair to say that Mario Cipollini has seen more than a few nightclubs in his time, but only once has he bumped into Rock Racing head honcho Michael Ball under the strobe lights and disco balls of Las Vegas. Tonight a radiant Cipollini bowled into a Sacramento press conference and described how that chance meeting last September had changed his life; the Italian was there because he'd finished third in today's sprint finish, a matter of metres behind winner Tom Boonen.

"This comeback was my mission impossible," he said. "To finish third at the age of 40, when I'm sprinting against 20-year-olds who could be my children, is an incredible emotion."

Those familiar with Cipollini's lady-killing reputation were ready with the punchline: actually, if you believe everything you hear, half of the peloton actually could be Cipollini's children...

If that was just a bad joke, we don't quite know what to make of Cipollini wondering out loud whether the next stop on his comeback trail might be Milan-San Remo. There remains a vacancy for one more team at La Classicissima and race chief Angelo Zomegnan is apparently due to drop in on the Tour of Califonia on Friday; the Lion King doesn't know yet whether Zomegnan will consider inviting a full Rock Racing line-up, or whether he might even agree to set a precedent by allowing Cipollini to start alone.  

What is certain is that, between them, Cipollini and Rock Racing boss Michael Ball are  succeeding in their mission of rattling the sport's already quaking status quo. Cipollini was horrified when there was no Rock and Racing soigneur to meet him after the finish-line with a change for his soaking race jersey, but, equally, he looked in his element tonight as he, Ball and an army of lithe young brunettes headed for the Hyatt hotel in downtown Sacramento.  Also along for the ride were R&Rs three outcasts - Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla, whose grin seems to widening by the afternoon here in California.

My personal feelings about Ball and Cipo and company are mixed. One minute I feel inclined to agree with the team manager who told me the other day that Ball was like "a fly who lands on shit, live off it then flies away", the next minute I suspect that cycling's just not ready for a guy quite this visionary.

I guess only time will tell which interpretation is the right one. In the meantime, I'm off to a nightclub... 

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