Today, Rock Racing confirmed that Mario Cipollini is no longer with the team. Many speculated that il Leone was leaving at the last minute to open the doors for a ride in this Saturday's Milan San Remo classic with Tinkov Credit Systems, but Cipollini denied any such 12th hour move. It looks like Cipo is headed towards his second retirement from the sport.
Hey, but what a ride Mario gave us all at the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). There is no denying that he is a rock star and his involvement with the high-profile Rock Racing Team looked to be a perfect match. When Michael Ball's squad rolled up to a stage start and Super Mario popped out into the crowd the electricity was in the air and the race came alive. He was clearly a fan favorite and he obliged all who sought autographs and interviews. He told me that this second career was just going to be fun. In Vegas terms, this time he was playing with the house's money.
Even with a relaxed attitude, Cipo still delivered, coming third in Sacramento to his heir apparent Tom Boonen and looking and acting like he had just won the stage. It was definitely the highpoint for Rock Racing and was ample justification for the team being invited to the AToC. Somehow, Mario willed his 40-year old body over both Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road the next day. Just to make sure his resolve was still at a professional level, mother nature unleashed her fury on the Hiway 1 down to San Luis Obispo resulting in a seven hour day in the saddle in cold rain.
Cipo's perpetual tan took a beating on that epic day, but he finished with the group and eventually the whole race to Pasadena proving that he still had what it takes to be a pro. During the AToC, Mario confided that his major goal was to take Rock Racing to Europe and participate in some of the great races across the pond. Rumour had it that the organizers of Milan-San Remo were keeping the 25th and final team slot open for Rock Racing with Cipo looking to repeat his 2002 victory on Via Roma where he beat his now-teammate Freddie Rodriguez to the line.
Unfortunately, Cipo and Micheal Ball could not come to agreement on the details the result being that flamboyant Italian has hung up his cleats and the show that is Super Mario has closed once again. Personally, I prefer substance over flash, but with Cipo you got both. I miss him already.
Even though we have had three days of very exciting racing at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC), the real race for the overall title begins tomorrow with a potentially epic stage over the 4,200-foot Mount Hamilton and the 2,000-foot Sierra Road, which boast grades of up to 15 percent as it climbs 1,800 feet in 3.8 miles. Expect to see riders like Levi Leipheimer, Jens Voigt, Jason McCartney, Tom Danielson, Robert Gesink, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic in the mix in the final miles of the stage.
The big guns will be firing and with cloudy skies and the potential for a few showers, the stage could take on epic proportions. This is clearly the hardest road stage ever held in the AToC's young history and will undoubtedly see a small group of riders who are not considered contenders for the overall title go up the road even before the Mount Hamilton climb. These "no-hopers" may even stay clear to the top of Mount Hamilton and all the way to the base of the brutal Sierra Road, but look for their shot at stage glory to be erased on the slopes of the AToC's signature climb.
As legendary cycling photographer Graham Watson put it, "Levi doesn't need to win in San Jose, he just needs to shed himself of some of his competitors." Yeah, baby! The race is on!
In other notes, Slipstream/Chipotle rider Tyler Farrar who took over the AToC leader's jersey has a bit if difficult to pronounce last name. It's 'Farra' to you, just like that Charlie's Angel who used to be married to Ryan ONeal.
Scott Nydam who, like his BMC Racing teammate Jackson Stewart the day before, went on a long solo break on Stage 2 from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. Scott lives in Sebastapol which is close to the stage start. He told me he had several reasons to go off on a raining day in search of glory. First off, his father was recently diagnosed with leukemia and though the cancer is in remission, he wanted to do something for his dad. Secondly, Scott is a climbing specialist and was disappointed with how he rode on the Coleman Valley ascent yesterday especially since he trains a lot on that climb and knows it well. Good on ya, Scott.
And it appears that Super Mario is back. While he lost the final sprint to his heir apparent, Tom Boonen, Super Mario definitely seems to be enjoying what he calls his second career on the bike. A podium finish in Sacramento was a huge result for the upstart Rock Racing team. Michael Ball's squad appears to be settling into a rhythm and has put the first few turbulent days behind them. Rumor has it that Rock Racing may get the 25th and final team spot for the first classic of the season, Milan-San Remo, a race Il Leone has won and his teammate Freddie Rodriguez has finished second.