By Andrew Hood
Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) quickly erased the bad taste in his mouth following Friday’s loss with an emphatic victory in Saturday’s 147km fourth stage of the Tour Mediterranean in France.
The 2002 world champion left no doubt that he’s back in top form, easily blowing down the finishing straight to score his first win of the 2004 season. Cipollini finished ahead of Domina Vacanze teammate Andrus Aug while Marco Zanotti (Vini Caldirola) came through to take third.
The win counts as Super Mario’s 14th career stage victory at the Tour Med and the186th of his career, coming some 270 days after his history-making 42nd career stage victory at the Giro d’Italia that broke the mark set by Alfredo Binda.
There were no major shakeups among the Med Tour’s overall leaders, other than the loss of 10 seconds by Laurent Brochard (Ag2r) as the bunch split coming into the sprint; he subsequently fell from fourth to ninth in the GC.
All eyes are on Sunday’s 28km team time trial with a climbing finish to Mont Faron. Rather than having the time taken at the fifth man across the tape, riders will be awarded individual times.
Team CSC seems confident German rider Jorg Jaksche has the legs to pull of the victory. Others keen for victory are Sylvain Chavanel (Boulangere) and Brochard.
Race note: Cipollini took advantage of his return to the limelight to once again plead his case to be allowed to race this summer’s Tour de France.
“I love France, it’s the place where I won my most beautiful sprints,” said the 36-year-old Cipollini, who has been rejected by Tour de France chief Jean-Marie Leblanc in recent years because he has never finished the world’s most prestigious cycling race.
“I love the Tour and since I’ve been punished for failing to finish it. I pledge to go all the way this year if Jean-Marie Leblanc retains our team.”
Unfortunately for Cipollini, that would appear a remote possibility as his Domina Vacanze team is in the UCI’s second division.
Tour Mediterranean (UCI 2.3), Stage 4, Greasque to Marignane
1. Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze, 147km in 3 hours, 14 minutes, 44 seconds
2. Andrus Aug, Domina Vacanze
3. Marco Zanotti, Vini Caldirola
4. Aurélien Clerc, Quick Step
5. Alexandre Usov, Phonak, all same time
Overall standings after four stages
1. Igor Astarloa, Cofidis, 11 hours, 35 minutes, 3 seconds
2. Sylvain Chavanel, Boulangere, at 0:02
3. Paolo Bettini, Quick Step, at same time
4. Jens Voigt, Team CSC, at 0:06
5. Cyril Dessel, Phonak, same time