By Gregor Brown in Siena
Italian Mario Cipollini attended the start of the Monte Paschi Eroica to see the first RCS Sport event of 2008 depart, while hoping the organiser will open a spot in Milano-Sanremo for his team, Rock Racing. The 2002 World Champion, who returned from retirement to race in the Tour of California, wants to enter the race he won in six years ago with the USA-based Continental team, but knows it will be difficult.
"It is difficult to enter the Sanremo at this point, but the desire is there," the 40 year-old from Lucca noted at the start of "Eroica" on Saturday morning in Gaiole in Chianti.
The team started by Michael Ball has difficulties entering into events such as the Milano-Sanremo due to its status as a Continental team; such teams are not allowed to race in ProTour events under International Cycling Union (UCI) rules, but since the status of RCS Sport organised races has recently changed there might be a chance.
"We can't say anything about Sanremo at this point; look what is happening in Paris-Nice. We don't know what will happen. To judge the situation at this moment seems impossible. We are preparing the team in hopes that we will race."
This will be Cipollini's last chance to participate in the race known as La Classicissima as he indicated he will not be on the bike in 2009. "No, absolutely no," he clarified. "I will not be riding but – I hope – with him [Ball], managing the team."
"The Lion King" saw the riders part for the 181-kilometre run, famous for its white gravel roads, although he had no desire – at his age – to race. "I would like to do this race, but maybe I am already a little bit too old for Eroica."