Cipollini says ciao, but not goodbye

Mario Cipollini, the Italian superstar sprinter who has 189 victories to his credit and nicknames to...

Mario Cipollini, the Italian superstar sprinter who has 189 victories to his credit and nicknames to match, brought an end to his 16-plus year professional career earlier this week. At a press conference on Friday in Milan, Italy, Cipollini explained the reasons for his retirement.

"I didn't feel up to my usual standard," said SuperMario. "Two months ago I gave my best to win Milan-Sanremo and in the same day I understood that it was time to admit my limits. My mind was still competitive, but I didn't have the legs. I'm really sorry not to take part in the Giro d'Italia, but I think that it's not right to betray the expectations of the supporters, of Liquigas-Bianchi...and, of course, my expectations. I have the winner's attitude and I can't play a secondary role. This decision, even if painful, is like a relief for me: it was getting more and more oppressive because I wanted to be what I'm not any longer."

Cipollini said that he knew it was over while he was training for the Giro in the last few weeks. "My natural character is to dominate my rivals and when I realised I couldn't do that anymore I realised it was time to stop."

A top athlete's career cannot last forever, and during his reign as the sport's number one sprinter, Cipollini has accumulated a palmares that most professionals can only dream of. Included in his 189 victories are a World Championship, Milan-San Remo, three Gent-Wevelgems, a record 42 stage wins in the Giro d'Italia, 12 stages in the Tour de France, including four in a row in 1999, and three stages in the Vuelta a España, all in 2002. His last victory was in the Giro Della Provincia Di Lucca on March 7 this year.

"38 is quite old for a cyclist, and especially for a sprinter like me, but I have no regrets that I have been going this long. I have won much more than I ever expected when I started cycling as a little boy," added Cipollini.

Although losing his team's biggest name rider, Liquigas Sport's president Paolo Dal Lago accepted Cipollini's decision. "We appreciate Cipollini's correctness and professionalism. When Mario says he is not up to it, he is not speaking about opponents, but about himself. There are other athletes who end their careers taking things easy. Such a great champion can't stand to ride if he is not sure of being competitive. We are going to cooperate again because we have the same winning spirit."

The team's managing director, Roberto Amadio, added, "We have to respect Cipollini's decision. Mario has worked very hard, not only for himself but also putting his experience at the team's disposal."

Now that he has finished his career, Cipollini said that he would remain in the sport, but he doesn't know in what capacity yet. "I have no idea what I'll do now and I'm going to take a break before deciding my future. I'd like to stay in cycling in some way because I've got a lot of experience and think it can be used for the benefit of young people and for the riders in the sport. One thing for sure is that I'll always ride my bike, I even went for a ride yesterday. I'm passionate about cycling and will keep riding to stop myself getting fat."

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