First Edition News for May 20, 2003
Edited by Jeff Jones
Universal support for Mario Cipollini over Tour snub
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
As the Giro d'Italia raced through Mario Cipollini's home province of Tuscany today, spontaneous support for Re Leone appeared along the roadside, like the banner that had "Mario" above hand-painted rainbow stripes, with the slogan "LEBLANC EST FOU" below. Crazy, but that's how it goes when Tour De France director Jean-Marie LeBlanc decides that World Champion Mario Cipollini doesn't deserve to be invited to Le Grand Boucle for the third consecutive year.
LeBlanc told French sports daily L'Equipe "There is a lot of regret to eliminate Domina (Vacanze). But Cipollini had an early season that was less good than last year. He's a great sprinter, but at 36 years old, he doesn't totally deserve to ride the Tour de France because of the mountains. Effectively, there is a risk that Mario will abandon at the end of the first week. We have not forgotten that he's never finished one Tour de France. I have enormous admiration for Cipo, but the course of the 2003 Tour (7 mountain stages) isn't the kind of stage that will be useful to (Domina Vacanze). Besides that, in the last weeks, he didn't reassure us with his form."
But Carmine Castellano, Race Director of the Giro d'Italia was visibly upset at LeBlanc's decision, saying "There have been some strong discussions since the beginning of the year about (selection for the Grand Tours) and now we can see that system for selection doesn't work. I can assure you that this matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the Professional Cycling Council on June 6th."
Domina Vacanze team manager Vincenzo Santoni was shocked and stunned. He explained that "one month ago, the news came out that LeBlanc wanted guarantees that Cipollini would finish the Tour. Cipollini responded that with the World Champion's jersey, he would finish the race. He gave his word. Perhaps the UCI should intervene to have the World Champion in the TDF."
Santoni further explained that "we do a spectacular job with our team; that's our job and Mario is the best at this spectacle."
Cipo's long time direttore sportivo Antonio Salutini said "we are really surprised by this - LeBlanc has decided to invite French teams to the Tour and not invite the World Champion's team! We still have some small hope (for a Tour invitation) if Coast doesn't do the Tour, but that is really small. In any case, the French have gone back to the old days and are really nationalistic. They used to do the same thing in the (19) 40's and 50's to Italian cyclists, and they are still doing it in the 21st century."
Cipo's former boss, Saeco team manager Claudio Corti agreed with Salutini, saying that "the world champion should not be excluded from the Tour."
Interviewed on Italian TV, L'Equipe journalist Phillipe Brunel couldn't say too much, as L'Equipe is owned by the same media company that owns the Tour, but he was frank when he stated that "this was a strange exclusion (of Domina Vacanze and Cipollini). It makes no sense within the philosophy of cycling. I guess that LeBlanc wanted to help French cycling; there were threats from Jean Delatour (that they would pull out of the sport if they were not selected for TDF)."
Brunel continued by stating "Perhaps LeBlanc has an old conception of Cipollini. After wining San Remo last year, he's become a real champion and perhaps LeBlanc doesn't understand this...this decision could distance real cycling fans from the Tour."
Brunel summed up the strangest dimension of the decision to not invite Cipo and his team to the Tour de France, "At the end of Cipollini's career he's become a real champion and the French people really love him!"
Gianfranco Josti, cycling correspondent of Milano's Corriere delle Sera was stunned by LeBlanc's decision. "I'm astonished that the organizers of the Tour could not invite Cipollini", while his media colleague Davide Cassani, colour commentator of RAI-TV's cycling broadcasts had stronger words for the TDF. "This is unbelievable. It's a real scandal that Cipollini wouldn't be invited. After all, he's World Champion!"
Rider support was also widespread for Cipollini, as Maglia Rosa Stefano Garzelli commented that "I'm sincerely sorry to hear this...it's not right." Saeco Giro contender Gilberto Simoni said, That's a new one on me...it's incredible."
Always the linguist, Robbie McEwen has been practicing his Italian at the Giro. Despite his rivalry, the Australian commented "non giusto" (not right) on Italian TV about Cipo's exclusion. "Sure, it's good for me if he's not at the Tour, but no Cipo, no good for me." Later, McEwen told Cipo, "Don't be don't be surprised if they (TDF) don't send you an invite next week."
Marco Pantani also weighed in, saying "This makes the Tour seem ridiculous...when you don't have the top riders, you hurt cycling and the fans who love it. The Tour is the most important race in the world and the best riders should have the right to be there."
But Cipollini, still steaming from the rabbit punch he got from the Tour de France organizers was bummed enough to say, "I don't want to go anymore, but if the team is invited and they make me go, I will ride...but without much enthusiasm. To win at the Tour de France wearing the World Champion's jersey is probably the last thing I have never achieved in my career. Now it will stay an unfulfilled desire."
Perhaps French journalist Brunel was most astute when he tried to explain that LeBlanc was out of touch with Cipollini's place in the sport of cycling. Despite the defensive cocorico crowing about supporting French cycling by LeBlanc, to select a squad like Jean Delatour over that of World Champion Mario Cipollini, who showed again today that he is one of the greatest cyclists of the modern age, is inexplicable. Despite the celebrations over the Centenary Tour, without SuperMario, the 2003 Tour De France may not shine so brightly as the organizers had hoped.
Should Cipo and Domina Vacanze be in the Tour? Have your say.
86th Giro d'Italia news
Post stage wrap-up: Cipo, the new record holder
Nauduzs DQ'd, Petacchi fined
Mario Cipollini won today's ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia, and is now the lone record holder for the most stage victories in the race. The World Champion got the better of Robbie McEwen and Alessandro Petacchi in a dicey and technical bunch sprint in Montecatini Terme. All eyes were on Cipollini heading into the final kilometres, and several riders, notably Alessandro Petacchi and Andris Nauduzs, were trading blows and throwing elbows in an effort to get his wheel. After the race, the jury disqualified Nauduzs and threw him out of the Giro, as well as penalising Petacchi a minute on GC and 25 sprint points, to go with a 200 Swiss franc fine.
A final right hand bend saw several riders go down, leaving Cipo and his two leadout men to bring it home for the World Champion, with Robbie McEwen and Alessandro Petacchi trailing in his wake. McEwen couldn't come past Cipollini, who took his second win in as many days, and more importantly his 42nd career Giro win.
The much talked about record of Alfredo Binda has thus finally been broken by the top sprinter of the modern era. While Cipollini could never equal Binda's feat of winning the Giro five times, his 42 stage wins gave him a special place in the race's history. It will take a long time before any other rider comes close to this feat.
Afterwards he commented, "I never thought I could break (Binda's) record. I'm a champion in the sprint and I can't be compared with champions like Merckx and Binda...but at 36 years old I tried to do my best. INPS (Italian social security) sent me a letter the other day to see if I was ready for retirement. Not yet!"
McEwen close again
Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) tried but failed to come round Mario Cipollini for his second Giro stage win, having positioned himself perfectly on the Italian's wheel with 500m to go. "I am not as disappointed as I was yesterday," McEwen told Belgian TV after the stage. "Yesterday I made a mistake by hesitating, going first left and then right. Today I tried to get past in the last bend but I didn't succeed. In the last 100 metres I didn't have the power to get past Cipollini. I knew in the last five metres that I couldn't beat him. "
"It was a real fight again to get on Cipollini's wheel," McEwen added. "Nauduzs was doing the wrong thing, also yesterday he was really fighting for position."
"The team Cipollini has is just so good. The first option is to sit on his wheel. Teammates or no teammates there, you still have to work very hard. Having a train like Cipo's would be a luxury, but even if you do have one, you need to be behind his to win."
McEwen has no ambitions for tomorrow's hilly 10th stage, "Tomorrow it is a hard stage, so I expect a break to go clear. The day after is flatter again, so I'm going to go for the win again."
Stage 10 - May 20: Montecatini Terme-Faenza, 202km
From the deluxe spa town of Montecatini Terme, Stage 10 crosses the Appenine Tosco-Emiliano via Mugello to the Emilia city of Faenza, which last hosted the Giro 33 years ago. This is a difficult stage with six climbs in 100km and a total of four GPM's: Colla di Casaglia, Colle Carnevale (6km @ 6%), Colle Albano (4 km @5%), then the unrated but dangerous 2km ramp of Valico di Valletta at 51km to go.
Valletta is a steep climb, with sections over 13% and will certainly provoke some attacks. Stage 10's final climb is the steep, tough 10km climb up Monte Trebbio with 23km to go. Trebbio's first 3 km are over 10%, so this climb could make a crucial selection on the way to Faenza. Stage 10 will be a hard, attacking day at the office for the Giro d'Italia, a perfect profile for an attacking team like Kelme to profit from.
"On paper, you can't tell how this stage. It will be long hard day for me and everybody," said Maglia Rosa Stefano Garzelli.
Cyclingnews will be covering the stage live from 14:30 CEST.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)