Will Mario Cipollini return to the peloton? The former World Champion took to the bike at the Interbike Industry Cup, and despite being caught up behind a crash before the finish, showed that he had lost little of the speed which propelled him to a record number of career stage wins in the Giro d'Italia. The 40 year-old Italian retired abruptly from the peloton in April of 2005, explaining that after 189 victories he decided to give up when he could no longer dominate his rivals, but was rumoured to be fancying a return to the peloton with the domestic US team, Rock Racing.
The news was first leaked by the team's sprinter Rashaan Bahati on Bicycle Radio that the flamboyant Italian was considering joining the squad sponsored by the designer clothing company. Cyclingnews received confirmation from the team's director, Frankie Andreu, that Cipo is in talks with the team.
"[Rock & Republic owner] Michael Ball talked to Cipollini at Interbike – Cipo did surprisingly well there after being off the bike for so long – if he's actually been off the bike." Andreu was cautiously hopeful that the Lion King would be coming to his team, saying that someone as fashion conscious as Cipollini would be a good fit with his team which is known for being stylish.
However, Cipollini's lawyer, Giuseppe Napoleone, laughed at the possibility, saying that the talk of a return to racing was all a misunderstanding by Ball based on a casual joke at a night club. "I fell out of my chair," he said after hearing that Ball had taken the discussion seriously, according to AFP. "The only thing certain is that at the Las Vegas trade show, Andreau [sic], Cipollini and myself ran into each other at the night club. A glass, a pat on the shoulders and a joke, 'Mario, I have a contract for you'. But for Mario, to ride again doesn't even pass through his head. It's a joke."
Andreu denied that the story was a joke, saying that Ball, manager Haldane Morris and Cipollini met in Los Angeles recently, and that Cipollini has been in regular contact with the team. Ball could not be reached for comment, but Andreu assured Cyclingnews that the story is no joke.