By Andrew Hood
A banged up and dejected Mario Cipollini hinted at retirement following his early withdrawal from the 87th Giro d’Italia.
The 2002 world champion hit the deck hard in Wednesday’s fourth stage, but couldn’t muster the will to overcome the pain and frustration and didn’t take the start in Saturday’s climbing stage.
While Cipollini earned a long sought after bid to return to the Tour de France, the dejected Lion King said he might retire instead.
“It is possible that my career will stop here. It is difficult to find stimulation. For now, I don’t want to think about the Tour de France,” Cipollini told reporters. “The Tour, it’s over, I won’t go, and I think that my career ends here.”
Team officials were quick to deflect Cipollini’s comments, insisting they were made in frustration of not being able to win a Giro stage for the first time since 1989.
“Nothing’s decided yet (about the Tour). Mario needs time to think, to understand what didn’t work inside the team,” Battaglini told L’Equipe.
Cipollini also blasted his Domina Vacanze teammates, charging they were unable to propel him to victory against archrival Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), who scored four stage victories in the Giro’s first eight stages.
“I would have chosen other riders in my team for the Giro, but they didn’t listen to me,” Cipollini said on Italian TV. “Now it is the manager who decide and the riders doesn’t count anymore.”
Cipollini didn’t stop there, attacking race organizers for including narrow and dangerous finishes.
“The love of the public is like a motor for me,” he said. “Only the public understand the values of this sport.”
What a May-o it’s been
Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) delivered a stunning victory in Sunday’s final stage of the Vuelta a Asturias in northern Spain, attacking on a steep hill with 50km to go to bridge out to a breakaway to snag the overall against Colombian Felix Cárdenas (Cafés Baqué).
Mayo entered May to test his form and he walks away with five wins in 10 days, starting last weekend with two stages and the overall at the Clasica Alcobendas, then victory at the one-day Subida al Naranco on Tuesday and Sunday’s heist at Asturias.
“These wins serve me, above all, to give me tranquility looking to the Tour de France, because I will arrive with my bets covered and because it means that I’ve been preparing well,” he told the Basque newspaper DEIA.
Mayo won the Alpe d’Huez stage in last year’s Tour and so far this season has demonstrated he hasn’t lost any of explosive attacking style. When asked if he’s peaking too early, Mayo says no.
“I’ve been asked 100 times and I’ll say the same thing, no. The preparation has gone wonderfully, but I am at ease because I still have room to improve,” he said. “Last year at the Dauphine I was better than I am now, so I still have to improve.”
Mayo said his winning streak probably isn’t causing five-time defending Tour champion Lance Armstrong to lose any sleep.
“I’m sure he has plenty of things to think about,” Mayo said. “I’m sure he’s doing his own thing.”
Millar breaks silence on ‘Cofidis Affair’
Reigning world champion David Millar broke his silence concerning the “Cofidis Affair” that’s threatening to derail the French team. Speaking in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper over the weekend, Millar said he found out about the team’s self-imposed racing ban just as he was preparing for a track World Cup event.
“I was in England when the L’Equipe story was in,” Millar told the newspaper. “I only heard the night before the World Cup, on the Friday, that I definitely couldn’t ride and it was like being hit round the head with a cricket bat. I just thought ‘fuck this’. I didn’t touch the bike for two and a half weeks after that. It wasn’t a decision I made; I just didn’t see the point. For two months, with all this stuff going on, I felt like I’d been picking myself up and getting knocked back down again.”
Millar said it’s been difficult to focus on training and preparation while the team faced an uncertain future.
“I went through a roller coaster of emotions,” he says. “There was shock and disgust that my team was forced down to that level. I was most angry at L’Equipe, because I thought they’d been very irresponsible. I was emotional and I just kind of gave up. It seemed like everybody was out to get me and I’m not a machine; I can’t just keep riding my bike. You have to understand my position. You’re talking about absolute bullshit from this lunatic Philippe Gaumont. That’s what it is and it’s hard to express to people the degree of bullshit this is. Then you see a newspaper listening to him … The thing is I liked Philippe Gaumont, I got on really well with him. It just baffled me. He’s in trouble and he’s gone for the guys in the team who’d hurt the team most: the leader and the management.”
The typically effusive Millar said he decided not to talk to the press because he felt anything he would say about the growing scandal and Gaumont’s allegations would be taken out of context.
“You go through a lot of different emotions but realizing that one person could do that much damage to the team is scary. You think, Jesus, anyone could say anything. It’s good copy, isn’t it? People love it,” he said. “That’s why I stopped talking, because I can see the press twisting whatever I say anyway. I got very cynical about talking to the press because I felt that a lot of it was down to them.”
Millar traveled to Paris over the weekend to undergo tests introduced by the new management team at Cofidis. There will be hair tests three times a year and monthly blood tests to monitor the rider’s health.
“It is clear that the Cofidis team wants to give the French public and cycling supporters what they want: race results and assurances that the team is clean,” said Millar on his website this week. “The return to racing sees a new regime within Cofidis where all the riders will be tested independently and rigorously so that there will be guarantees that the integrity of the team will not be tainted by the actions of individuals in the future. This is a really positive move and will help to change the perception of cycling.”
“Cofidis had to do this, and other teams will have to do it,” Millar told the newspaper. “It’s not a publicity stunt – they’re not going to publish the results or anything. But the dangerous thing is that if a team has a rogue rider, a little rider who’s not getting a new contract, then he could blackmail the team by threatening to make accusations in the press. People can see that’s happening now, and there are certain press who want these stories. So what we’re doing is creating an insurance policy for the riders, so that if anything comes out these test results it can be produced. So tomorrow I have to get my bloody hair tested.”
Racing this week
The 87th Giro d’Italia continues Monday with the 142km ninth stage from Policoro to Carovigno in the “heel” of Italy’s boot. The peloton transfers north to Porto Sant’Elpido on Tuesday’s rest before pushing north along Italy’s Adriatic Coast with a string of flatter stages tailored for the sprinters. The next major test is the Giro’s lone time trial in the 52km test against the clock on Saturday … The Bayern Rundfarht (GER 2.3) and the Tour of Belgium (BEL 2.2) dominate the week’s racing beyond the Giro. Both races start Wednesday and conclude Sunday.