News for July 3

Lion King Cipollini roars back after fine

The report from Andrew Longmore in today's national daily The Australian carried the above headline. Longmore writes that "like wicketkeepers [bill notes: cricketer who stands behind the stumps] and goalkeepers, cycling's sprinters are a breed apart, respectful of their art, respected and feared by their fellows. They earn their pay on the long, flat stages that traditionally dominate the first week of the Tour de France."

"Sprinters are not built to last nor, on the evidence of Monday, are they to be crossed lightly. On the second longest stage of the Tour, 247km through the Netherlands, Belgium and into northern France, Mario Cipollini, the self-styled king of the sprinters, alias the Lion King, Super Mario and Il Magnifico, had a point to prove."

"Humiliated the previous day by Frederick Moncassin, the Gan sprinter (he was fined and disqualified from third place for blocking the Frenchman near the line), the flamboyant Italian restored the natural order by winning the second stage of the Tour by a length. As sprint victories are measured in millimetres, it was not even close. Sprinters live on their nerves."

Max Sciandri, a close friend of Cipo said "you risk and risk and risk until someone hits the brakes. Sprinters get rich by ignoring the brakes." Sciandri, the British Olympic rider and a member of Motorola, is a neighbour in Tuscany.

Cipo "is fined 50 Swiss Francs ($A51) every day for wearing Ferrari-red shorts when the rest of his Saeco team wear black and has a green and a yellow pair in his suitcase ready for the day he wears the green or the yellow jersey. The victory on Monday was a classic example of Cipo's sprinting style. While Moncassin had been a lone raider the previous day, taking himself into the leading bunch and choosing his moment to strike, the Italian champion's win was choreographed from 2km out."

Sciandri says "Cipo is different from some of the others. If you don't bring him up to the leaders cleanly, he won't win the stage".

"The Saeco team timed their challenge to perfection, riding down a brave breakaway by Rossano Bassi, of Polti, within the last 5 kms and stretching the rival sprint teams beyond their limits. When Ekimov made a final break for the line it looked as if all the planning had been in vain, but Cipo was at full throttle by then and, well before the line, the Russian's challenge had faded to nothing. Crossing the line, the Italian struck the familiar pose, arms outstretched, satisfied that all was right with the world again."

He said "I am happy for myself, my team and my pride."

"Earlier in the stage, Britain's Chris Boardman's Gan team had worked hard to reel in a four-man break so that their man, Moncassin, might have a chance of grabbing his second consecutive stage. The Frenchman finally finished fourth behind Jan Svorada and Jeroen Blijlevens, the young Dutch sprinter, who followed hi narrow defeat on Sunday with another second place. Swiss rider, Alex Zulle, no sprint specialist, came in safely with the pack to retain the leaders yellow jersey. But he is now clearly under threat from Moncassin, who gained 8s through the day's sprints to advance to second overall, 1s behind Zulle.

Like Zulle, Miguel Indurain, bidding for a record sixth win, took no risks and finished the stage in 49th place. The Spaniard is ideally placed in sixth position overall before the battle really starts in the Alps on Saturday. Indurain said "The first week is always a bit dangerous and the most important thing is not to fall and not to lose too much time."