By Kirsten Robbins and Davide Frattani in California, USA
Former world champion Mario Cipollini returned to the peloton in the Tour of California after negotiating a lengthy contract to race with the American based team Rock Racing. While the Tuscan sprinter has no plans of relocating from his Monaco home to the USA, he confirmed that his commitment to Rock Racing is long term.
"I hope to visit for some weekends or weeks in the USA," said Cipollini regarding the Rock Racing headquarters in Los Angeles, California. "Malibu is not bad and California is an incredibly beautiful place."
Though it is unclear of the number of years Cipollini is obliged to the American squad based on his contract, he confirmed that his role on the team will start out in competition and progress onward to directing and management in the future. "To be riding now is all based around being a manager and director," said Cipollini. "The reason I am a cyclist now is also for launching the Rock and Republic brand/sponsor in a very particular way - through bike racing."
Cipollini retired from professional bike racing in 2005 prior to the Giro d' Italia and surprised the cycling world when he signed contract with the American team. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was the first time Cipollini raced on US soil, with the Italian national team. As a professional rider for Domina Vacanze, Cipollini competed in the 2004 Tour de Georgia. After the Tour of California, the patriarch sprinter has agreed to compete in the Tour de Georgia and Tour of Missouri along with 14 one day races and criteriums throughout the USA racing calendar.
"The rest of the races in my contract are very flexible and they are all one day races," confirmed Cipollini on his negotiated calendar with Rock Racing. "The reason I am only doing 14 races is because I still having some problems with my knee injury I got form hitting a tree in a ski accident."
While Cipollini's race palmers tallies up to nearly 200 career wins including over 50 victories in the Giro d' Italia, he acknowledged that criteirum racing in America is a whole different ball game and one that his is up for the challenge. "The criteriums are very difficult and risky and something that American's are very good at," said Cipollini, who experienced his first American criterium in the 2007 US criteirum finals held in Las Vegas. "The other side is that for me they are fun. It's a different style of racing that requires a different style of sprinter. It should be very fun to try this style of racing, but I'm sure it will also be risky too."
According to Cipollini the future of bike racing is in America, where the passion for cycling is growing strong. "When I raced in Georgia in 2004, I saw how much passion there was for cycling and I think that the future of cycling is right here," said Cipollini. "I like it a lot and I can see there are very good organizations with the budget they have and they can only grow bigger. It is wonderful, the Tour of California, because the rider travel along some spectacular country side, mountains and the ocean so it is very stunning and cycling here can only grow."