By Andrew Hood
Italy’s jet-set cycling superstar Mario Cipollini made Milan a pit-stop Tuesday evening for his new team’s Liquigas-Bianchi official presentation en route from training in South Africa before flying off to Qatar to make his 2005 season debut.
Super Mario looked ever the media maven decked out in the lime-green Liquigas-Bianchi kit as he was the star attraction during presentation of Italy’s newest super team that includes, among others, Stefano Garzelli, Danilo Di Luca, Dario Cioni and Paris-Roubaix champ Magnus Backstedt.
“After two irregular seasons, I’m ready to get back to the top level again,” Cipollini told about 200 of Italy’s cycling elite in a posh private ceremony on a cold Tuesday evening in Milan’s East End Studios. “It’s a challenge to return again to be the best sprinter, but I believe I can do it. I’ve been training hard to prepare for the season.”
Cipollini turns 38 just days after his beloved Milan-San Remo, his favorite race of the year and one of his top goals for the season.
“I dream of winning Milan-San Remo again, as well as doing well in Gent-Wevelgem and the Giro d’Italia,” the Lion King surmised of what lay ahead. Beyond that, he wouldn’t speculate if the world will see him return to the Tour de France, or the Tour de Georgia, for that matter.
Liquigas-Bianchi, which enters the season with a four-year contract to sponsor the team in cycling’s new ProTour, presents a new start for Cipollini. The 2002 world champion admits that he didn’t work hard enough the past two seasons, but spent two weeks training in South Africa to rebuild his strength.
Gone is Cipollini’s much-heralded train. Longtime teammate Mario Scirea was watching from the crowd in civilian clothes while favorite lead-out man Giovanni Lombardi was in Tuscany, now part of Bjarne Riis’s Team CSC.
The structure of Cipollini’s new train is still to be determined, but Cipo says he’s not worried.
“This team is super talented and I’m sure they will be able to do fine,” he said. “The only question mark is me.”
The final chapter of the Cipollini era begins Saturday at the GP Doha and the Tour of Qatar. The world will see if the Lion King can roar one more time.
Four of the team’s riders — Dario Cioni, Danilo Di Luca, Devis Miorin and Charles Wegelius — will fly to Mexico, in Toluca where they will train at elevation until the end of February. The remainder of the team will reach Cecina for a 10-day training camp.
Liquigas-Bianchi for Tour of Qatar
Team manager Dario Mariuzzo
Backstedt still seeing red over Arenberg exclusion
Defending Paris-Roubaix champion Magnus Backstedt attracted a lot of attention Tuesday night at the Liquigas-Bianchi. The polyglot has added Italian to his Swedish, German, Flemish, English and French he already speaks.
Riding a strong spring classics campaign and aiming for another Tour de France victory (he won a stage in 1998) top Backstedt’s goal for this season.
“It’s going to be special lining up at Paris-Roubaix as the defending champion,” Backstedt said. “There’s been a lot of media attention on me that I wasn’t used to dealing with, but at the end of the day you still have to be prepared. I’ve been training hard all season, so I will be ready.”
The 30-year-old Backstedt says he still can’t understand the exclusion of the Arenberg cobbled section at Paris-Roubaix. While officials say the notorious cobbles will be back next season after making repairs to a sinkhole that’s appeared, Backstedt said it will diminish the luster of the race.
“Arenberg is what makes Paris-Roubaix. Everyone says it’s too dangerous, but Paris-Roubaix is a dangerous race anyway,” he said. “You can’t take the Arenberg out of the race. I think the whole thing stinks.”
The real question was, however, does he really weigh 98 kilos, or 215 pounds as the media kit reported?
“Yes, now I do, but I slim down to 93 kilos once we get into the season,” he said, making him a svelte 205 pounds just in time to pound the cobbles.
Garzelli believes he can play upset in Giro
Stefano Garzelli says he’s not perturbed by the Italian media’s hype over the much-anticipated Giro d’Italia showdown between Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso. In fact, he says he likes it.
“Last year, the Giro was said to be a duel between Garzelli and Simoni and someone unexpected came in to win,” said the new Liquigas-Bianchi capo. “Now everyone is talking Cunego and Basso, so maybe I can be the one.”
Garzelli enters a critical season in his career. Once seen as the natural heir to Marco Pantani after winning the 2000 Giro, the reserved Italian has been marred by injuries and doping scandals.
He came back to win the Tour of Aragon in Spain and a Giro stage last year, but didn’t have the legs to challenge Cunego as the 23-year-old stormed to an impressive Giro victory.
“I still believe I can be a factor in the Giro,” Garzelli continued. “With this team, I know we will be very strong and I am focusing everything on being ready for the Giro. After that, I will take a break and race the Vuelta.”
Garzelli said he likes what he’s seen so far of the 2005 Giro course, one that he says favors his climbing talents.
“The first half of the race isn’t too complicated, which will help the climbers ride into the final half of the week ready for the big stages,” he said. “I like the course. It looks like it will be a good race.”
Quick Step adds Engels, ready for Qatar
Belgium super team Quick Step signed its 27th rider after penning Dutch veteran Addy Engels to a deal for the 2005 season, the team reported.
Engels spent four years with Rabobank and last year with Bankgiroloterij. His first race with the team will be the G. P. Costa degli Etruschi on February 6.
The team, meanwhile, will be looking for success at the Tour of Qatar, where Belgian sprinting star Tom Boonen will make his season debut with many of the same riders that will be alongside him during the upcoming classics season. Quick Step for Tour of Qatar