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Mario Cipollini

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Photographs: Paolo Ciaberta

What does the sprint mean to you?
It’s a whole life concentrated, squeezed and shaken in 20 seconds. To be as strong in those vital, existential seconds, you have to work body and mind, day and night. The sprint is tension and intuition, will and desire, self-denial and sacrifice, focus and determination, judgement and vision. For me it was a way to express myself, to show my character, to make my personality stand out.
Is there something that you wish you had done?
I wish I’d finished at least one Tour de France. I went back to the Tour, as a spectator, in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali won. And I lived the atmosphere not as an athlete or a journalist, but with all those fans who see the riders who finish the Tour as authentic heroes. And I was sorry. I should have got to Paris. For them. For me. For cycling culture.
Do you have a weakness?
Who knows what I look like most of the time, but deep down I’m a good guy. Sweetness melts me, passion conquers me, love dominates me.
Why didn’t you become a directeur sportif?
Because I was the person least suited to explain to a rider all of the sacrifices he has to make to respect himself, the fans and the sport. He has to tell them that once they’ve fixed their minds on a goal, they can’t falter with one kilometre in training, a spoonful of food or a minute of rest.
You don’t want to return to racing?
I’d only need a month and a half of training to beat all of the Italian sprinters. Some of them I beat even now. Just don’t ask me to give any names; they have contracts and I’d get them in trouble.
And the others?
The road is like a ring. Real sprinters are like heavyweight boxers. People like Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, like me. Mark Cavendish is strong, or at least was strong, because now – with all respect – he is in decline, but he was never a heavyweight. He was lucky to come into a power vacuum when the world heavyweight title was vacant, and to have a train that made it like a stroll for him.
It says it all that he’s trying to go to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the track. If he felt confident, he’d aim for the World Championship road race. For a rider, the road Worlds is always the most important and prestigious goal.
This is an edited extract from Mario Cipollini’s interview in issue 62 of 1, out now. Translation by Colin O’Brien.

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