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By Andrew Hood
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt – What do you get when you combine sun, sand and sea with a strong dose of Mario Cipollini? One bizarre and very Italian — with a faux Arab touch – team presentation.
Domina Vacanze – an Italian time-share and resort company — is the new title sponsor for Cipollini’s team. This weekend, company president Ernesto Preatoni filled a Boeing 737 with the world champion, seven other teammates, about 40 journalists and a gaggle of VIPs, hanger’s-on and friends and flew them down to the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to formally introduce the team’s one-year sponsorship deal.
But this is more Vegas-by-the-Sea than any Bedouin tent city. The sprawling resort has hundreds of posh condos and hotel rooms, pools, beaches, lush gardens, restaurants, and bars and an army of attendants to satiate every earthly desire.
With Cipollini and Co. surprising the hundreds of Italian tourists already here, you’d never know you’re within missile range of Iraq. The only camel in sight was tied to a post next to the beach volleyball court and seemed irritated by the nearby salsa dance lessons.
“The weather here is great, but there’s not a lot of variety in the roads,” Cipollini joked after the team went on a two-hour training ride Saturday morning on Sharm El Sheik’s only road. It goes from here all the way to Cairo some 300 miles away.
Cipollini looked tanned and ready for racing after spending three weeks training in South Africa and two weeks in the Canary Islands. Joining Cipollini in Egypt were teammates Mario Scirea, Giovanni Lombardi, Gabriele Colombo and Daniele Bennati for what must be as one of the most exotic team presentations ever.
“I’m excited about this season and I look forward to wearing the rainbow jersey with pride,” Cipollini said during a press conference Saturday.
The team and guests enjoyed a special gala dinner under a tent and Cipollini spent the night away dancing in a local disco.
It might be one of his last chances to cut loose for awhile. Things get serious next month with Milan-San Remo – where Cipollini wants to repeat his victory wearing the rainbow jersey.