Mario Cipollini has sparked controversy after suggesting Vincenzo Nibali should have paid $100,000 to Olympic Games road race rival Sergio Henao to ensure he won the gold medal instead of taking risks on the final descent to the finish.
Nibali crashed out on a corner, taking down Henao, with Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet going on to win the gold medal.
Cipollini made the suggestion during a long interview in L'Equipe about the magic of the World Championships. Cipollini won the rainbow jersey in Zolder in 2002 after a perfect performance by the Italian team. He told L'Equipe that he asked Christ to give him the strength to win before beating Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel in the long surge to the line.
Paying off rivals is illegal but Cipollini seemed to ignore the consequences of his suggestion.
"Van Avermaet was able to win because Vincenzo Nibali didn't manage the finale well when he was with Majka and Henao," L'Equipe reported Cipollini as saying.
"I could have understood him taking risks if he had been alone, to widen the gap, but not when he was halfway down the descent, in the trees, where the road was dark, damp and slippery. It would have sufficed to offer some money to Henao and things were sorted. For Henao, winning the [Olympic] games wouldn't have made a huge difference.
"This kind of deal has always existed. It's not the victory that it bought but collaboration. At Zolder, when I won, money was talked about with a team that had nothing to gain and that could be there for a reason. For $100,000, Henao could have looked after Majka, and Nibali would have returned to Italy with the gold medal around his neck. Compared to the pile of money he would have gathered later with other contracts, $100,000 isn't much!"
In the 2012 London Olympics, some suspected Alexandre Vinokourov of doing a deal with Colombia's Rigoberto Uran so he could win the gold medal in the road race. Vinokourov has also been linked to a deal with Russia's Alexandr Kolobnev to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Cipollini's comments sparked a negative reaction from several riders in the peloton, including Nibali. He posted on Twitter: "After reading some cycling stories, I think it's important to use the freedom to speak more wisely."
Cipollini often deliberately sought controversy during his long career by breaking the rules on the colour of racing clothing, sprint tactics and by bullying the peloton. Following a detailed investigation by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Cipollini was linked to the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. The newspaper claimed he used blood transfusions, EPO, hormones and paid €130,000 to Eufemiano Fuentes between 2001 to 2004. Cipollini has denied the accusations and started legal action against Gazzetta dello Sport.
He has always refused to speak about the alleged links to Operacion Puerto.
Doubts about this year's World Championships contenders
Cipollini describes winning the world title in Zolder as the highlight of his career. He suggested the big-name sprinters hoping to win this year's World Championships in Doha, Qatar, should do a deal so that an unknown rider does not steal their glory.
"If it's windy on Sunday, one team can control the race from start to finish, it'll be harder than a mountain stage. There could just be 20-25 riders at the finish. Kittel, Greipel, Bouhanni and Cavendish should wait, work together and be smart, they should say to each other: ‘let's do everything possible so that the race ends in a sprint', otherwise a ‘Van Patapon' could win," L'Equipe reported Cipollini as saying.
He was critical of virtually every sprinter's chances in Qatar, highlighting their weaknesses, suggesting he would have been a better team leader for the Italian squadra.
"Kittel has the physique du rôle, he's good looking, sculptured and has added muscle this year so he can develop 2,000 watts for 15 seconds but he's inconsistent. In May, he won three stages at the Giro with a devastating superiority that left you speechless. After he disappeared and was non-existent at the Tour de France. The other day at the Brussels Classic, I saw that he led out Boonen two kilometres from the finish. Is he trying to hide before Qatar?" Cipollini said.
"Greipel is a colossus, Kristoff is just the cousin of the rider he once was. Cavendish is the most aerodynamic and will have a team all for him but he can also fend for himself, like Bouhanni, which is a huge advantage.
"The Italian team has four sprinters in Nizzolo, Viviani, Modolo and Colbrelli but they are really only four half sprinters. They're middleweight boxers against heavyweights. That'd be great, and I say this without false modesty, if they were riding for a leader like Petacchi or Cipollini."