'The Lion King' Tinkoff bound?
By Gregor Brown in San Benedetto del Tronto
Italian Mario Cipollini has requested to end his contract with Team Rock Racing and may be racing in Tinkoff colours for this Saturday's Milano-Sanremo, a race he won in 2002. 'The Lion King' and owner of the USA Continental team, Michael Ball, have had their differences since starting their relationship last fall, and now Cipollini is in a race to annul his contract.
The 2002 World Champion from Lucca has a renewed desire for racing the Milano-Sanremo since he returned from retirement in the Tour of California. He now faces a race against time if he is to participate in the 298-kilometre race known as La Classicissima as he needs his racing license resolved with Rock Racing, which he requested last week according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, before signing for a new team.
Cipollini, who will celebrate his 41st birthday this Saturday, faced a similar race against time before being allowed into the Tour of California. In the tour along USA's west coast he proved his legs can still pump out the high revolutions by finishing third in the stage to Sacramento (won by Tom Boonen). However, his chances of winning in Sanremo, his last race in 2005 before retirement, would be limited due to lack of racing kilometres.
His contact with the Italian Professional Continental team owned by Russian Oleg Tinkov has yet to be confirmed. The 40 year-old Russian confirmed he has not talked to Cipollini, but he noted that the team's general manager, Stefano Feltrin, may have. Feltrin commented that time is running out. "We would like to see him at the start line with us," stated the General Manager to Cyclingnews, who has kept in contact with the sprinter. "The reality is it is a long way off, he has to have a waiver from his current team and then we would have to sit at a table and work out the details."
"Ten minutes before the sign-on the director talked to us about this article in the newspaper. I don't know if it is official or not," said the team's star rider, Mikhail Ignatiev, to Cyclingnews before the final stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. "Cipollini is a great racer, but I have never had the chance to race with him. I have seen him about ten times in training, we have crossed paths along the seaside in Tuscany. I don't go training with him as I am usually training alone." The 22 year-old Russian will not be taking part in Sanremo as he is building for the Track World Championships.