Cipo aiming to go all the way

ario Cipolllini may not be the sprinting force he once was, but his goal this year is to reach the

ario Cipolllini may not be the sprinting force he once was, but his goal this year is to reach the
The man charged with coaxing Mario Cipollini back to the forefront of world sprinting, Domina Vacanze directeur sportif Giuseppe Petito, has admitted that the Tour de France will be a "voyage into the unknown" for the 37-year-old Lion King. Petito was speaking to procycling shortly before Cipollini marked his return to the Tour with a creditable, if unspectacular 35th place in the 6.1km Lige prologue won by Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo). The Italian's aura may have dwindled - as have his groupies - since his last Tour appearance, but the Domina Vacanze team bus remains the place to be for pre-race high jinks. Last month, at the Giro d'Italia, it was Cipollini's behind-tinted-windows altercation with an Italian journalist that kept Super Mario's name in the news. Today it was the usual commotion about Cipollini's novelty skinsuit, which had to undergo last-minute scissor-surgery before finally receiving the commissaire's green light (albeit with the usual 200 Swiss-franc fine). A short distance away Petito confided that it was a refocused, if not yet completely revitalised, Cipollini who returned to the Tour fray this afternoon: "A lot has been made of Mario's disappointing ride in the Giro, but people forget that he crashed out; he didn't just withdraw," Petito said. "Since then he has refocused and trained hard, spurred on by the thought of coming back to the Tour. We don't know exactly how competitive he'll be, but we'll soon find out. His body language has pleased me over the past few days: he looks fresh and excited." Cipollini left the Giro d'Italia empty-handed, embittered and injured one week into the race. This was the cue for speculation that the veteran fast man may never return to top-flight racing. Petito now claims that not only were rumours to this effect misguided, but that, at 37, Cipollini still has one burning ambition: "He wants to get to Paris for the first time, that's for sure. Can he win stages? I believe so, yes, but it'll be two or three days before we can start drawing up concrete objectives." Two factors that spelt double jeopardy at the Giro - disunity in the Domina Vacanze team and a certain Alessandro Petacchi - won't worry Cipollini in France, says Petitio: "I'm convinced that this is a very good team and very well balanced. Mario doesn't have his usual train, but he does have a great lead-out man in Gianmatteo Fagnini and other trusted riders in Francesco Secchiari, Massimiliano Mori and Massimo Giunti. "This is a journey into the unknown for us. Mario has raced very little since the Giro, so we have few indicators of how he's riding. I was pleased with his performance at the Italian national championships last week He certainly looks good and says that he feels good. And we know that Mario's pedigree is second to none. The duel with Petacchi? I don't think he's worried. He knows that if he can get back to his best, he has no need for inferiority complexes," Petito concluded. First answers on tomorrow's sprinter-friendly 202.5km opener between Lige and Charleroi. Prepare to be entertained.
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