The Italian cycling world has reacted with surprise and sorrow to Mario Cipollini's announcement that he is retiring effective immediately. The most common reaction among his peers and other Italian cycling luminaries polled by la Gazzetta dello Sport seems to be, "we thought he was training hard for the Giro."
Alessandro Petacchi has inherited Cipollini's throne as Italy's sprint king in the last couple of years. "I am sorry [to see him go] because Mario is part of the history of bicycle racing and also of me personally," said Petacchi. "I became well known thanks to him. My victories mattered because I had beaten him. I am thinking of the stages of the Giro two years ago when he had the world champion jersey."
Renato Di Rocco, president of the Italian cycling federation, said, "I have a great deal of respect for what was surely a difficult decision for Mario. But the decision was typical Cipollini, a clean break, with the sense not to drag things out.
"Surely his departure makes the world of bike racing poorer," added Di Rocco. "We were waiting to see him in the Giro, not just for his sprints, but also for the man himself. Despite his age, he was still the true adversary of Petacchi in the sprints."
Former rider Maurizio Fondriest echoed the thoughts of many. "I thought that he was training hard for the Giro - I did not expect this," he said. "I am astonished and speechless at this decision; I do now know what might have influenced his choice. Before the world championships at Zolder he announced he was going to retire, but then thought again and came back to win. Really I don't know what to say, given that it's just ten days to the Giro."
Francesco Moser was sympathetic to the 38-year-old's plight. "In my last years as a professional I also felt the years passing," said Moser. "After a certain age you feel like a fish out of water because everyone in the peloton is younger and has a different attitude." But the news had come as a surprise to Moser too. "Not even Gimondi knew anything, and just a few days ago he had told Felice, who supplies him with bikes, that he was training for the Giro."
Lampre team manager Giuseppe Saronni also said he was surprised. "We were all waiting see him go up against Petacchi in the Giro," he said.
Former rider Gianni Bugno was less surprised than most. "I had been waiting for this," said Bugno. "I didn't know the date, but he was at an age. I thought he would ride the Giro first but I understand that this was just the moment to go. He has a lot of heart, a great rider who won many races."
Vincenzo Santoni, Cipollini's team manager at Domina Vacanze in 2003, said, "It's a great loss. I don't think we will ever find another like him. I am sad at this moment; I went through times of delight and pain with him. But I just remember the delights. The best? When he won Milan-San Remo. Certainly there was success in the Giro and the Vuelta, but the adrenaline after Milan San Remo is unforgettable.
"He is a great character, unique. In soccer it is easy to have a certain profile, but it's harder in a smaller sport. He was larger than life, like Tomba in skiing.