ario Cipollini was in the first group at the San Remo finish, but well to the back of it at what he
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM If, as he promised on the finish line on the Via Roma this evening, Mario Cipollini has ridden his last Milan-San Remo, then those of us he has thrilled, titillated and sometimes appalled over the past 17 years can at least reflect that the Lion King abdicated in style and with dignity. With the display on his odometer reading exactly 294km, a wan, pale-faced Cipollini buried his head into his handlebars 100 metres past the finish line, seemingly too wasted to notice the onrush of reporters. The results sheet said that Cipollini had finished in 36th place in a leading group of 39. He was “tired”, Cipollini said, “very, very tired”. Was he also disappointed? “Disappointed yes, sad no,” he answered. It was the reaction of a man who, three days short of his 38th birthday, seemed happy just to be there. “I am little emotional,” said the Liquigas captain, having taken several seconds to regain his composure. “I have dreamed about this avenue ever since I was a child, so how can I not be emotional? This is my last time here as a rider, of that I am sure. It’s not my last race: my focus now switches to the Giro d’Italia, where I would like to give my fans a parting gift or two. It’s dawning on me now that I am coming to the end. “The fact that I was there at the end proved that I had worked well to prepare for this race,” Cipollini added. “I felt fine over the Poggio and was in good shape coming into the final kilometre. Up to that point I had been forced to take advantage of other team’s work. I only had Franco Pellizotti and Danilo Di Luca in the lead group, and Franco was tired from his attack on the Poggio. If I’d had a train like Petacchi, we might have seen a different race. Unfortunately, I was knocked off Petacchi’s wheel by Boonen or Zabel 600 metres from the finish line. It wasn’t deliberate – it’s a jungle out there, and the law of the jungle prevails. But that was the end for me.” Newly devoid of bravado, this wasn’t the Cipollini who had in the past suggested that Petacchi’s success owed as much to the failings of his rivals as to the Fassa Bortolo man’s sprinting pedigree. “It’s the end of a great career for me, the start of something big for Alessandro,” Cipollini said magnanimously. “He has stepped up a level with this victory. I’m very pleased for him. I believed in myself right until the very end, but a very fine athlete won.” Enquiries about what should have been Cipollini’s next stop on his farewell tour – Ghent-Wevelgem – were politely batted away. “I can’t think about winning that race. I need to rest for a while now, then hope to come back for a grand finale at the Giro.” A grand finale and – with Super Mario directing proceedings – one helluva party. Of that you can be sure.