MARIO CIPOLLINI is the Ferrari of modern-day sprinters, but after winning the fastest stage in Tour de France history yesterday he revealed that he will be without a job at the end of the season. "I am like an old car which consumes too much, so they are leaving me in the garage," he said after winning the fourth stage from Laval to Blois.
The field completed the 194.5km (121.6 mile) stage at an average speed of 50.356 kilometres per hour (31.5mph) to topple the six-year-old record held by the Belgian rider, Johan Bruyneel. Only in individual time-trials had the 50 kph barrier been broken before.
Cipollini's team are sponsored by Saeco, who make coffee machines. Next year Saeco are cutting their racing budget and have told Cipollini that they will have to let him go.
"I don't think they will change their minds because of this victory," Cipollini said. "I am a little demoralised, because I always saw Saeco as my team. The `Red Train' was something special," he added, referring to the nickname given to his red-jerseyed team-mates because of the way they paced Cipollini into a winning position in 62 races in three years.
Saeco has been associated with the big Tuscan since 1993, the first two years as a secondary sponsor, and in that time he has worn the yellow jersey in the Tour and the leader's pink jersey in the Giro d'Italia. In 11 years he has had five sponsors and said that he had already had "some good propositions" for next year. "I would like to create a new team but it will be difficult because I have to leave some good friends," he said. "My team have given me a lot of morale and they work hard for me."
Yesterday Cipollini's "train" pulled him through for his ninth sprint victory in the Tour. Despite a late drive by the German Erik Zabel and the Australian Stuart O'Grady, the Italian was his old irresistible self.
He was no threat to the Estonian, Jaan Kirsipuu, who found himself with a new challenger for the yellow jersey. O'Grady's third placing gave the Australian a time deduction which lifted him over Tom Steels in the overall standings.
Steels had dominated the two previous stages but yesterday the Belgian finished fourth with Kirsipuu fifth in a stage raced over the flatlands from Laval, which, with a tailwind, soon put Bruyneel's fastest stage of 49.417kph under threat. Bruyneel set the record at Amiens, today's finish for the fifth stage.
After the drama on Monday, when he lost 15 minutes on the leaders after being caught behind a crash on a narrow ocean causeway, Chris Boardman was happy to finish in the pack yesterday. The British rider is content to lie low and is planning a salvage operation. He is hoping that trailing by a quarter of an hour in the Tour - and therefore posing little threat to the main contenders - could be his passport to a stage win.
For a rider who has worn the yellow jersey on three Tours, and has been forced to abandon three times by crashes, he is approaching this year's race with a different attitude.
"Hopefully a couple of stages will present themselves, and also there are the time trials," Boardman said, mindful of the days when the contenders for overall victory want an easy ride. "Sometimes a rider is given the go-ahead when the going gets tough, and everyone's legs are hurting. They cannot chase every move and I am one of the guys they might let go. There's always hope."
Boardman has only once completed the full distance, in 1996, but he insisted: "I have a good mental approach about it this year."
Avoiding trouble is his aim. "If you are at the pointed end of the Tour, chasing a good overall standing or seeking stages, you need to be near the front of the pack," he said. "Otherwise you just keep out of it at the back. When we came to the Gois causeway on Monday my wheels started to slip, so I just drew to the side, and counted to 10. Then everyone, it seemed, fell off. I just knew it was going to happen. It only takes one guy to make a mistake."
TOUR DE FRANCE RESULTS
FOURTH STAGE (Laval to Blois, 194.5km; Fr unless stated): 1 M Cipollini (It) SAE 3hr 51min 45sec (av 50.356 kph); 2 E Zabel (Ger) TEL; 3 S O'Grady (Aus) CA; 4 T Steels (Bel) MAP; 5 J Kirsipuu (Est) CSO; 6 N Minali (It) CTA; 7 C Capelle BIG; 8 D Nazon FDJ; 9 G Hincapie (US) USP; 10 J Sweet (Aus) BIG; 11 R McEwen (Aus) RAB; 12 J Casper FDJ; 13 F Simon CA; 14 J Svorada (Cze) LAM; 15 S Hinault CA; 16 C Da Cruz BIG; 17 C Moreau FES; 18 S Martinello (It) PLT; 19 L Michaelsen (Den) FDJ; 20 E Aggiano (It) VIT all same time. Selected: 33 B Julich (US) Cofidis; 36 A Olano (Sp) ONCE; 56 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank; 85 R Virenque, Polti; 90 P Tonkov (Rus) Mapei; 105 C Boardman (GB) CA all same time.
OVERALL: 1 Kirsipuu 17hr 10min 40sec; 2 O'Grady +16sec; 3 Steels +21; 4 L Armstrong (US) USP +24; 5 Zabel +32; 6 Olano +35; 7 Hincapie +38; 8 Moreau +39; 9 Cipollini +44; 10 A Vinokourov (Kaz/CSO) +45; 11 S Gonzalez (Sp) ONCE +45; 12 A Peron (It) ONCE +47; 13 C Vandevelde (US) USP +47; 14 L Dufaux (Swit) SAE +47; 15 A Casero (Sp) VIT +50; 16 Tonkov +52; 17 F Simon CA +52; 18 Julich +52; 19 A Galdeano (Sp) VIT +53; 20 E Dekker (Neth) RAB +53. Selected: 54 Virenque +1:15; 108 Boogerd +7:29;126 C Boardman (GB) CA +15:56.
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