PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Mario Cipollini has always been one of the most unpredictable figures in the pro peloton, and the Italian sprinter proved that yet again when he unexpectedly announced his immediate retirement from the sport on Tuesday evening. Thought to be preparing for a final swansong at his beloved Giro d'Italia, where he holds the record of 42 stage wins, the 38 year old did not start the Tour of Romandy yesterday and is set to appear at a press conference in Milan on Friday.
In a statement released by his Liquigas-Bianchi team, Cipollini said: "Announcing my retirement a little more than a week before the Giro d'Italia is a very hard decision for me, but it's an honest one. The fans will understand. I would have liked to have been at the start in Reggio Calabria, to go looking for another victory or even another maglia rosa. But for an old guy like me, who is given so much to cycling and received so much from it, it is more important to know when to choose the moment to leave.
"I would like to thank Liquigas-Bianchi, who have put their confidence in me and deserve all the recognition I can give. I feel honoured to have finished my cycling career in this team's jersey."
Liquigas Sport president Paolo dal Lago was the first to pay tribute to Cipollini, who amassed 189 victories over his 17-year career. "Mario has always been loyal and reliable with us. He was extremely well prepared for the start of this, his last pro season, and he still is now at what is clearly a difficult time. Cipollini gave us the last two victories of his career in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of the Province of Lucca. He has been a great athlete and I am sure he will want to give a lot more to cycling," said Dal Lago.
Tributes quickly flowed in to Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport from many of the great names in Italian cycling. Alessandro Petacchi, who has succeeded Cipollini as the fastest sprinter in the pro peloton, thanked his rival for boosting the profile of sprinters within the sport. "I have become famous thanks to him, my victories have taken on more importance because I have beaten him," said Petacchi. "I am thinking particularly about the stages of the Giro two years ago when he was wearing the world champion's jersey. The attention I got from the fans and media was greater because I had beaten him."
Vincenzo Santoni, Cipollini's team manager at Domina Vacanze last season, declared, "This is a huge loss, I don't think we will ever find another like him. I went through both pain and joy with him. The best moment was when he won Milan-San Remo, the adrenaline rush after that was incredible."
Francesco Moser said that Cipollini, as Moser had himself, must have felt the passing years taking an increasing toll on him. "When you reach a certain age you feel like a fish out of water because everyone in the peloton is younger and has a different mentality," said Moser.