Mario Cipollini turned 50 this week, and to mark the occasion, the flamboyant former sprinter gave an interview to Italian newspaper, Il Giornale. As you may imagine, there were some gems in it.
The winner of a record 42 Giro d’Italia stages plus 12 in the Tour de France and three in the Vuelta, as well as both Milan-San Remo and the road world championship in 2002, the rider from Tuscany revealed that his love of cycling had got him into trouble with his mother from an early age.
“I caused her a lot of headaches,” he said. “At just six years of age, I escaped on a woman’s bike and headed towards Lucca. When a friend of hers spotted me she went and told her and then she called me.
“My mother even sawed the bike in two. Once she even drove over it with her car to break it. But it didn’t scare me; she was obstinate, but so am I.”
He revealed that the race he puts above all others is Milan-San Remo, one that he only won on one occasion, describing it as “my dream.”
Cipollini said: “It’s a bastard of a race, but fascinating as no other.”
Asked about the 2017 race, which took place last Saturday and where Michal Kwiatkowski pipped Peter Sagan in the sprint having followed an attack from the world champion on the Poggio, Cipollini said: “It happens. It’s a cruel race.
“Moser and Saronni rode it many times but each only won once. Me too. Moreno Argentin, who was one of the greatest Classic-hunters of all time, never made it his.
“Peter was only beaten by himself, for being too careful. If only he’d gone [in the sprint] a moment later,” added Cipollini, who described Kwiatkowski as a “great rider, strong and intelligent.”
He was scathing in his opinion of the current state of Italian cycling, however.
“It’s gone,” he said. “We are fourth world. We’ve only have Vincenzo Nibali, the only real talent we’ve got. As for the rest, they are only extras.” Asked if that included Fabio Aru, he said: “Give us a sign. We’re here, waiting.”
Cipollini spoke about his family including his brother Cesare whose son, Edoardo, aged 11, is proving to be a promising cyclist.
“He [Cesare] was the first cyclist in the family,” he said. “He’s 10 years older then me, we never saw much of each other, because we were too busy. Today, thanks to Edardo, we’ve become much closer. Edo is a little talent.”
He added that the youngster worshipped him. “When he rides he absolutely wants to be uncle Mario and on a Cipollini – as in the bike.”
Asked which former team mates he remained close to, he singled out Mario Scirea, now sports director at UAE Team Emirates, and Giuseppe Saronni, with whom he said he had “a special rapport.”
But when he was quizzed about which rival he got on with best, he replied: “I don’t get on with anyone who was my rival.”
He was similarly uncompromising when asked which defeat had hurt him the most.
“All defeats hurt, no exceptions,” he replied.
He admitted that the biggest mistake of his career never completing the Tour de France, typically abandoning the race when it hit the mountains.
“I didn’t understand anything,” he confessed. “When I went as a spectator to Paris to cheer on the triumph of Vincenzo Nibali [in 2014], the most under-rated Italian champion in history, I understood the scale of the Tour and the scale of the mistake I’d made.”
Finally, Cipollini revealed that he has two challenges he wants to win, the first concerning the brand of bikes that bears his name.
“I’d like to supply a WorldTour team,” he said.
The other? “I need to sort something out with the La Gazzetta dello Sport,” he disclosed. “It’s a courtroom battle, and I want to win it.”
That, presumably, is a veiled reference to an article from 2013, in which the newspaper alleged that he had been a client of Eufemiano Fuentes, the banned Spanish doctor at the centre of the Operacion Puerto doping ring.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.