After months of rumours and speculation, it appears that Italian sprinter
Mario Cipollini has signed onto the Rock Racing team as rider/manager for
2008. Whoa! What "Super Mario's" role will be with the team is yet
undetermined, but one thing is for sure, the US domestic professional racing
scene just got a whole lot more interesting.
The 2002 World Champion can certainly pedal a bike and even at the age of 40,
he will shortly turn 41, he will undoubtedly be capable of winning races in
America. But, more importantly, he is a showman. A rider of "rock star"
quality who brings charisma and presence just by showing up. From his
outrageous cycling attire to the time he left the Tour of Spain prematurely so
he could be a judge at the Miss Italy competition this guys makes headlines
both on and off the bike.
Does the US domestic scene need "il Leone" as Cipo is known to his Italian
tifosi? With all the doping scandals running rampant through the cycling
community Mario just could be the breath of fresh air to get people's minds
thinking the glass is half full and not half empty. We need to be reminded
of why cycling is such a great sport, not only in which to participate, but
also to watch.
Mario's wins in both the Giro, where he holds the all-time record for stage
victories, and the Tour de France are things of beauty, executed with style
and perfection. One question that still lingers is if the Rock Racing team
can assemble an effective leadout train with which to deliver the flamboyant
Italian to the line. My guess is with a marquee name like Cipollini on your
squad, you go get support for the kick to the finish.
Cipo's signing fills a couple of roles for Rock Racing. The team is in dire
need of a director sportif after the recent departure of Frankie Andreu. Also,
with the parity among the US domestic pro teams having a bunch sprinter is
almost mandatory if you want to win races. Unfortunately, Cipo's lack of
knowledge of the US race courses, the only race he has ridden in America is the
Tour of Georgia, may provide a steep learning curve if he is called on to lead
the squad from the team car. At 40, his best days are probably behind him
which means that he will most likely not be a candidate to ride the more
difficult stage races or hilly one-day events.
My guess is that we will see Cipo at the upcoming Tour of California behind the
wheel of a Rock Racing vehicle and not in the saddle. Given the rumours of how
he drives around Italy, even that scenario is sure to give race fans, and race
officials, something to talk about. Benvenuto in America Mario!
ps - what do you all out there think about Mario coming to America?