Mario Cipollini makes successful return to pro cycling

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02/18/2008| 0 comments
by Thomas Valentinsen

Mario Cipollini makes successful return to pro cycling

Former World Champion places 44th in the 2008 Tour of California prologue; Leads Rock Racing on opening day.

Rock Racings Mario Cipollini made a successful return to professional cycling after nearly three years away from the sport by finishing 44th in the prologue time trial that opened the third edition of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.

The 2002 world road race champion was greeted by some of the loudest cheers from the massive crowd lining the two-mile (3.3 km) course through the streets of Palo Alto and the Stanford University campus. His time of four minutes and eight seconds was 17 seconds behind the winner, Fabian Cancellara (CSC), who clocked 3:51.

The size of the crowd was amazing and caught me off guard, Cipollini said. It was great to hear so many people cheering my name and shouting encouragement. I was very pleased with my form today.

Cipollini retired a few weeks before the start of the 2005 Giro dItalia after winning a record 42 stages of that race, in addition to 12 stage wins at the Tour de France and 191 races overall in a professional career that began in 1989.

Rock Racings other finishers were Columbian Victor Hugo Pena (47th, 18 seconds behind) and Americans Freddie Rodriguez (51st, 18 seconds behind), Doug Ollerenshaw (110th, 29 seconds behind) and Michael Creed (121st, 32 seconds behind).

Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said it was time to put controversy surrounding the team behind and get the race underway. On Saturday, Rock Racing was informed by race organizer AEG that three of its riders American Tyler Hamilton, Columbian Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla would not be able to start.

We may have the fewest riders in the race but I dont think anyone is counting us out, Ball said. Mario and Freddie have the full support of the team and we fully expect to contend for a stage win over the next couple of days.

Rodriguez, a three-time U.S. national road race champion, said he is anxious to team with Cipollini during Mondays Stage 1, a 97-mile race from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. Which rider might be leading out the other should the race come down to a sprint finish is still to be determined, Rodriguez said.

Basically, we're both professionals and teammates, Rodriguez said. We are going to take it day by day. Our goal is to win a stage for Rock Racing. It's the first race of the year for both of us, and the first race of his comeback. So we'll take every day individually and hope to take a stage.

Mario Cipollini has raced in the United States on two other occasions, having competed in the 2004 Tour de Georgia. He won Stage 2 that year, a 118-mile (189.9 km) race from Thomaston to Columbus, Ga., to score what was then his 188th career victory. He also competed in an industry criterium last September in conjunction with the Interbike convention in Las Vegas.

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