It appears the news that Italian super sprinter Mario Cipollini has signed with Rock Racing were a bit premature. That doesn't mean that Cipo is heading back to the land of fine wine and pasta for good. It just means that the negotiations aren't over. Where's Donald Trump when you need him? Personally, I hope Mario signs and has a presence in the US. I am sure The Donald would allow him to be a judge at his Miss America pageant.
In light of being in limbo over Super Mario's future, I thought I would recount my most favorite story about the flamboyant Italian. In 2002, I was covering the spring classic in Northern France and Belgium for Cycle Sport Magazine. It was a blast. If you have never been to the classics, you should go and don't forget to bring your bike and some warm and waterproof clothing.
Anyway, the Tour of Flanders ranks just behind Paris-Roubaix in prestige and some consider it even more difficult. This is the event to win if you are Belgian. The great Belgian cyclist Peter Van Petegem once told me that after he won the Tour of Flanders he never had to worry about getting a speeding ticket (and boy did he love to drive his Volvo 760 fast). When he would get pulled over the cops would recognize him and just let him go. Unfortunately, Belgium is implementing a lot of photo radar and Van Petegem mused that his lead-footed days were soon to be over.
Hey, but this is about Mario and here's the story. The Tour of Flanders is around 165-miles long and has about 20 named short climbs most of which are cobbled and reach grades of up to 23%. In 2002, Cipollini, who is nota noted climber and seems to disappear on all but the flattest of courses, was leading the UCI World Cup, the precursor to the current Pro Tour. As such he felt a need to defend his leader's jersey and rode exceptionally strongly to win the field sprint and finish 9th overall.
As Cipo crossed the line, a female TV reporter approached him and asked, "Do you want a massage?" Now you have to remember that Mario had just ridden 165 of the hardest miles there are in pro cycling, something that would have left lesser men near collapse. But not Cipo. He looked straight at the reporter and asked, "Are we talking a therapeutic massage or a sexual massage?" The reporter answered, "a therapeutic massage." Mario responded, "a therapeutic massage? No, not a therapeutic massage."