Italian sprinter 'Super Mario' Cipollini to retire from cycling

ROME, July 10 (AFP) — Flamboyant Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini has announced that he is retiring from competition after his team failed to win an invitation to the Tour de France.

The 35-year-old superstar sprinter said on his Internet Web side that he felt great bitterness at being unable to once again win a stage in cycling's greatest event which started last weekend.

He also slammed the main sponsors of his Acqua e Sapone team "who failed to appreciate the sacrifices I have made and who have led me to take this drastic decision and to say 'enough with cycling.'"

Cipollini, currently 11th in the world rankings, said that he would hold a press conference in the next few days to explain in more detail the reasons behind his decision to retire from the sport.

In a stellar career dating back to 1988, Cipollini has chalked up 177 wins and was on the top of his form earlier in the cycling season, winning the Milan - San Remo classic as well as Ghent - Wevelgem and six stages in the Tour of Italy.

But the failure of his team to get an invitation to the Tour de France was a bitter pill to swallow for a cyclist who is seen as being in the dying stages of his career.

"I am fed up with being treated as a mediocre cyclist by everyone, even by the media," he said.

"No-one came to my defense in the dispute with (Jean-Marie) Leblanc, the chief of the Tour de France, who decided not to invite my team," he told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Shortly before the start of this year's tour in Luxembourg, Leblanc went on record as saying that while he admired Cipollini as a great champion, he had his doubts over his showbiz style.

Leblanc reacted to Cipollini's outburst by asking him to reconsider his threat to quit and revealing that Acqua e Sapone were snubbed because he didn't believe they were good enough to finish the Tour.

"First of all, Cipollini has proved himself as a champion and obviously deserved his place in the Tour," Leblanc said. "However the people that surrounded him within the team of Acqua e Sapone didn't convince us that they were well enough equipped to finish the Tour de France."

Leblanc then asked: "Have you had a good think about this, Mario? We are only two months from the World Championship, you could be world champion, do you really believe you have taken the right decision?"

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