Mario Cipollini has finally inked a deal with the US Rock Racing team and will ride for the team in a series of US races before coming team manager of a Monaco-based part of the team in 2009.
In the last two days the five-year deal between Cipollini and Rock and Republic fashion clothing owner Michael Ball has been on and off more times than a teenage romance, but contracts were signed on Saturday night in Santa Monica, with Cipollini apparently earning over a million pounds a year.
Cipollini was hesitant about signing the deal because a series of problems that have arisen since he arrived in the USA on Monday. Cipollini talked about problems with the team?s current management. Ball was also insisting SuperMario rode 15 races in the USA in 2008, including the Tour of California, the Tour of Georgia, and appeared at fashion shows and events in the USA. The Italian wanted to limit his time on the bike and focus on building the team for 2009 but after a final meeting on Saturday, a deal was finally thrashed out that satisfied both sides.
?It?ll mean I?ll be spending a few months in the USA and my family will be on the other side of the ocean but this adventure will force me to make some important changes in my life,? Cipollini told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport on Sunday.
?This adventure has been driving me crazy since September. I do like to do things by half and this project allows me to invest in my future. I?ve had a lot of doubts but I?ve also said ?why not ride the wave and see where it take you?? My head is about to explode but Michael Ball has accepted my requests but wants to me ride more in the USA in 2008, stay with the team for camps and be present at events for the company.?
Cipollini is now set to make his debut at the Tour of California on February 16. However before then the team has a string of major and minor problems to overcome.
After Frankie Andreu quit his position of directeur sportif on the team in December, the team has struggled to get organised for the 2008 season. Ball has argued with bike and equipment sponsors and some have publicly stated they are happy not to be working with the team in 2008. Cipollini has negotiated to have his own bike and accessory sponsors but it is still unclear what bikes the team will ride.
The team has high hopes of riding some races in Europe, with the possibility of Cipollini leading a team in Milan-San Remo. However Rock Racing is registered as a continental team with the UCI and so under current rules cannot ride Milan-San Remo.
Cipollini has also made it clear he does not want Santiago Botero, Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla in the European team but at the same time has admitted Ivan Basso is at the top of the list of riders he wants to sign for the 2009 European team. Michael Ball does not seem to worry about signing riders who have been caught up in doping scandals and has confirmed that Hamilton, Sevilla and Botero will be on the team. He is even keen to bring Floyd Landis into the set-up as some kind of consultant.
Cycling Weekly understands that other problems are gathering on the horizon that could dramatically affect the team?s future but controversy and polemics seem to be the way both Ball and Rock Racing like to do things.
Cipollini is clearly happy to make a comeback and find a sponsor that allows him to become a team manager but he could be facing a very rocky ride with Rock Racing.