Mario Cipollini has celebrated the tenth anniversary of his 2012 world road race title true to character, with a party in a Tuscan nightclub attended by many of his former teammates and the staff who helped him win the rainbow jersey in Zolder.
Looking a little older, with some grey hair in his beard, but still looking smart in a suit and tie, Cipollini sat with his former teammates Paolo Bettini, Luca Scinto, Mario Scirea, Davide Bramati, Matteo Tosatto and 93 year-old former national coach Alfredo Martini. They laughed and smiled as they exchanged memories of the race as highlights were shown on a huge screen.
Cipollini beat Robbie McEwen (Australia) and Erik Zabel (Germany) to win the world title, remembering how Alessandro Petacchi played a special role in the lead out and his fear that McEwen would jump him coming out of the final corner.
Now close to 46 and busy with his own bike company after finally retiring in 2008, Cipollini gave each of the riders a special memorial bracelet and promised there will be another party in ten years time.
"I wanted to relive what happened ten years ago. It was a special world championships because we created a special team spirit. Thanks to the work of then national coach Franco Ballerini we started a series of titles that showed that being rivals from trade teams doesn't mean Italian riders can't all ride together," he said.
"I'm happy to celebrate that day with everyone who was there and who helped me win. Not everyone could make in person it but they're all here in spirit, especially the late Franco Ballerini. Seeing the video images of him talking on television after we won is a very moving moment."
"I think the best way to remember what happened in Zolder that day is the photo of me crossing the line. I sprinted for he last to hundred metres and won but all my other teammates put their arms in the air in celebration. We were all world champions that day and showed how to race as a national team."
Defending his generation
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Cipollini recalled that the Italian team dominated the race.
"We kept the race under our total control, even when people attacked. We were relaxed because we'd dusted off some old friendships in the peloton. We did things intelligently. Only an accident, or perhaps not even that, could have stopped us," he said.
When asked about suspicions about his extraordinary form in 2002 -Cipollini also won Milano-Sanremo, Ghent-Wevelgem and surprise mid-season retirement, he hit back, defending his generation. He dismissed the suspicions as 'criticism and allusions by people who don’t know things."
"I start winning in 1989, in my first season as a pro and I kept going until 2004. Those thoughts are from people who don't understand cycling. It's easy to talk now; everyone talks and everyone judges. But a rider's life is about a lot more than a few anti-doping controls. The sacrifices that you do are so hard that people can't understand them," he said.
"Cycling is about pain and suffering and nothing changes that. The foundations of this sport are courage, sacrifice, putting up with pain and giving up a lot in life. There will always be doubts but there will be in every sport, not only cycling."