Cycling: Cipollini's triple triumph

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The Independent Online
MARIO CIPOLLINI achieved the rare feat of a hat-trick of Tour de France stage wins yesterday, after a jury had annulled Tom Steel's victory for his rough tactics.

It was the first time a cyclist has won three straight stages of the Tour de France since Italian Gino Bartali in 1948.

The jury announced its decision shortly after the Belgian's victory had been officially announced. Steels was judged to have impeded a fellow rider, Jan Svorada, when he pushed him seconds ahead of the finish line. He then appeared to veer into Cipollini.

Steels, seeking his third victory of the week, had narrowly edged out the Italian, and crossed the finishing lines with arms aloft.

No real sprinter has won the Tour in the post-war era, and it is hard to see that changing. Cipollini, who has never finished a Tour, usually quits before the first mountain stage with a couple of stage wins under his belt.

The Italian is hinting he might go the distance this year, however, perhaps mirroring the Frenchman Octave Lapize, who was the Cipollini of his time in the early years of the century. Nicknamed "the curly one" because of his hair and, like Cipollini, a favourite with female fans, Lapize refused to finish six of the seven Tours he entered.

Like Cipo, he was dubbed "the king of one-day classics", and Lapize staged a protest in 1913, stopping at a roadside restaurant to eat a good lunch and drink some wine before giving up a Tour he found too hard. But in 1910, he not only decided to go all the way to Paris but won the race.

A French air force pilot during the First World War, he was killed in 1914.

With 10 stage victories in his Tour career, Cipollini has done better than other Italian legends like Fausto Coppi or Ottavio Bottecchia, but he is still well adrift of some other sprinting greats of the past.

In 1976, the Belgian Freddy Maertens won eight stages, a record he shares with Eddy Merckx and the Frenchman Charles Pelissier in 1930. That year, Pelissier finished on the podium 18 times.

For many cycling historians, the Tour's best ever sprinter remains the Frenchman Andre Darrigade, who won 22 stages between 1953 and 1964, five times winning the first stage. In 1958, Darrigade hit a race steward at full speed during a sprint finish at the Parc des Princes and killed him.

Spills are part and parcel of a sprinter's life. Cipollini had a terrible crash in 1994 in the Tour of Spain and he has since become a more cautious rider. In the same year on the Tour, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert and Belgian Wilfried Nelissen both fell heavily when the Belgian smashed into a gendarme who was trying to take a picture.

In the 1974 race, Belgian Piet Van Katwijk was also rushed to hospital after colliding with a photographer while 10 years earlier, the Belgian Rik Van Looy, one of the best sprinters of all time, crashed in the mass finish of the first stage and lost consciousness. He started the second stage without knowing where he was and had to spend 14 days in hospital.

The Uzbeki Djamolidin Abdoujaparov suffered the ultimate frustration in 1991. Nicknamed "the kamikaze" because of his bold, often dangerous style, he rode into an advertising hoarding and somersaulted on to the road just as he was about to win the final stage on the Champs-Elysees in 1991.

SIXTH STAGE (Amiens to Maubeuge, 171.5km, 106 miles) Leading placings: 1 M Cipollini (It) Saeco 4hr 11min 9sec; 2 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom; 3 J Kirsipuu (Est) Casino; 4 J Svorada (Slovak) Lampre; 5 D Nazon (Fr) La Francaise de Jeux; 6 G Hincapie (US) US Postal; 7 S Martinello (It) Polti; 8 S O'Grady (Aus) Credit Agricole; 9 N Minali (It) Cantina Tollo; 10 L Michaelsen (Den) La Francaise de Jeux; 11 C Capelle (Fr) Big Mat; 12 J Casper (France) La Francaise de Jeux; 13 F Sacchi (It) Polti; 14 S Hinault (Fr) Credit Agricole; 15 G Mondini (It); 16 C Moreau (Fr) Festina; 17 J Sweet (Aus) Big Mat; 18 E Aggiano (It) Vitalicio Seguros; 19 C da Cruz (Sp) Big Mat; 20 F de Waele (Bel) Lotto all same time.