Mario Cipollini believes that world champion Mark Cavendish is among the greatest sprinters of all-time but has warned that Team Sky's' new rider is still not making the most of his considerable talent.
“He’s one of the absolute very best, even if I’m still convinced that sometimes he wastes his talent,” Cipollini told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’d say that he’s among the greatest of all-time along with Van Steenbergen and Van Looy. I hope that you might also put me at that level.”
Although Cavendish’s professional career briefly overlapped with that of Cipollini at the 2008 Tour of California, the pair never raced against one another at the peak of their powers. When asked who would have won out in a bunch sprint with Milan-San Remo on the line, Cipollini acknowledged that Cavendish had won the race at a considerably younger age, but he was bullish about his chances.
“I only won it when I was 35 years old, he did it earlier,” Cipollini said. “But I don’t feel inferior and I wouldn’t start already beaten…”
As well as paying tribute to the world champion, Cipollini was fulsome in his praise of the world number one, Philippe Gilbert. “If he wins as much as he did this year and with the same quality, he’s the new Eddy Merckx. I think he’ll confirm himself at a very high level. And I like Philippe because he rides in a spectacular way and excites people.”
Cipollini was more circumspect in his appraisal of Alberto Contador, claiming that the dominance of his Giro d’Italia victory was accentuated by the errors of his rivals. In particular, he felt that Michele Scarponi had over-estimated his own capabilities in the mountains.
“At the Giro we saw the strongest Alberto ever in terms of legs, but he wasn’t very clever tactically,” Cipollini said. “He did too much at Etna and he managed himself badly on the stage to Gardeccia.
“I think Scarponi is too ‘convinced’ that he is a phenomenon. On Etna, if he had taken advantage of his teammates’ work instead of following the Spaniard and going into oxygen debt, perhaps things would have been different.”
While Cipollini expects that Contador and Cadel Evans will again be the men to beat at the Grand Tours in 2012, he is somewhat less enthusiastic about Andy Schleck’s prospects and has scant regard for his cautious tactical approach.
“His problem is Fränk and vice-versa,” he said. “How they rode the Tour de Suisse is an example of that. They’re incomprehensible. They cancel each other out in turn. I’d like to see him more decisive, but instead he attacks and after four pedal strokes he turned around. He gives the impression of being a radio-controlled rider.”