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By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright 2002 AFP
After declaring on his Web site on Tuesday that he was through with cycling, Italian star Mario Cipollini told Gazzetta dello Sport that he was tired of “being treated like a mediocre cyclist,” and again cited the non-selection of his Acqua & Sapone team to the Tour de France as one of the primary reasons for his decision to retire.
“I am fed up with being treated as a mediocre cyclist and being snubbed. By who? By everyone, even by the media,” said Cipollini. “No one came to my defense in the dispute with [Jean-Marie] Leblanc, (the chief of the Tour de France), who decided not to invite my team,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Cipollini said on his Web site that he felt great bitterness at being unable to compete in the Tour. He also slammed the main sponsors of his Acqua & Sapone team “who failed to appreciate the sacrifices I have made and who have led me to take this drastic decision and to say ‘enough with cycling'”.
He said he would hold a press conference in the next few days to explain in more detail the reasons behind his decision to retire.
In France, Tour director Leblanc sent a message to Cipollini. “Have you really thought about this, Mario?” Leblanc said in an interview with Italian television. “We’re only two months away from the world championships, you could be the world champion. Are you sure you’ve made the right decision?”
Shortly before the start of this year’s Tour in Luxembourg, Leblanc went on record as saying that while he admired Cipollini as a great champion, he had his doubts over his showbiz style.
Leblanc told AFP he was “surprised by the Italian rider’s shock decision,” however he said he would accept no responsibility.
“First of all, as a champion, Cipollini could have booked his place on the first part of the Tour. But his team make-up at Acqua & Sapone leaves the impression that they would not be able to finish the Tour de France,” said Leblanc. “Given the circumstances, we preferred to opt for a 21st team who had a better chance of making it all the way to Paris.
“The second thing is that, we read in April that Cipollini was thinking about riding the Giro then the Vuelta as part of his preparations for the world championships.
“And I’m still convinced that he was right [to say that] because he could become the world champion on the course at Zolder [Belgium].”