The Lion King's hotly contested third place finish at today's Tour of California Stage 2 in Sacramento was accomplished without riding an official team DeRosa.
In fact, 'Cipo' is using virtually none of the team's officially sponsored gear. His bike is fitted with Shimano Dura-Ace instead of Campagnolo Record, Lightweight Standard wheels rather than the official Cole Products hoops, and he even uses Specialized tubular tires instead of the officially supplied Challenge rubber. In place of a Stella Azzurra stem is a carbon fiber Bontrager Race XXX Lite model (painted black on one bike) and Cipollini's head is protected by a Specialized helmet, not a LAS.
But what of the frame itself? Cipo's frame bears no resemblance to anything in the DeRosa stable and is decorated only with large 'Cipollini' badging on the main triangle. Even JFK conspiracy theorists would be impressed with the amount of speculation that has circulated around exactly what the make and model is. We confirmed today that it's not a DeRosa of any sort, but contrary to popular belief, it isn't a Specialized or Max Lelli model, either.
Cipollini's aluminum frame does apparently use a handful of tubing and dropouts similar to what he used on his old Specialized E5 bike but it isn't welded in a Specialized factory. According to our sources, his frame was built by Simone Carlesso of Bassano del Grappa, Italy (note: here in the Veneto region), the same person who built his bikes when Cipollini rode for the big 'S'.
In fact, it seems that Cipollini's choice of machine has little, if anything, to do with a dislike of Rock Racing's official equipment but rather a desire to stick with something familiar. The flamboyant Italian sprinter may still be fast but at this stage in his career he's not terribly interested in getting accustomed to something totally new. Seeing as how he is Mario Cipollini after all, apparently even Michael Ball can't tell him what to do.
Of finishing 3rd in Stage 2, a sprinter's stage, Cipollini said, ""I thought he [Ball] was just another crazy person like all the others that I have met in my career," joked Cipollini regarding their initial informal discussions in Las Vegas. "At the time in the club there were a lot of beautiful women and I was more interested in them than in what Michael Ball had to say."
"But Michael was putting on more pressure on me and we decided to meet again," continued Cipollini, who took interest in Ball's team upon realizing the offer was a serious one. "Everything started from that point and everything was based on the idea that Michael Ball was going to create a high profile team by using my experience."
"I'm forty-one years old so basically it is not a profession for me anymore, it's just my passion," said Cipollini in a post-race press conference. "Just sprinting here with riders that could by my kids is a victory – I'm very proud. I like to challenge myself with something that is almost impossible to accomplish. It is just a challenge against myself. Although it makes me sad to take away the space for the young riders, from an egotistical point of view, I like the challenge and for me it is very good."
Photographs: Ciopllini's bike (James Huang/Cyclingnews.com); the beautiful women that Mario was more interested in; the Governor congratulating Cipollini. Text originated from http://www.cyclingnews.com/