Nobody gets the Lion King by the balls, except the Lion King.
The relationship that was started last fall in a Las Vegas discotheque could come to an end if Mario Cipollini does not get his say in the management of Rock Racing. The Italian, who came out of retirement at the age of 40 to race in the Tour of California last week, and his lawyer met with the owner of the team, Mike Ball, yesterday to discuss the coming season.
"We need to sit at the table and make clear who is in command," said Mario Cipollini in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport's Luigi Perna. The Italian from Lucca and lawyer Giuseppe Napoleone were scheduled to meet with Ball later in the day.
"The boss is Ball, but after him it is me. Therefore I want to manage the squad starting now. I can organise the participation in [Milano-] Sanremo. To find men to race is not a problem. ... If Ball does well it will continue, otherwise goodbye. I now understand that the name Cipollini still has value, in the United States and elsewhere."
Cipollini was happy with his return, but not with the fiasco surrounding the team and Ball's backing of Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero. The riders, all allegedly linked with Operación Puerto, were barred from racing by the organiser, but continued along daily by riding behind the race caravan and signing autographs for fans at the stage villages.
"For a week I had an infinite amount of patience ... Maybe it was my great desire to return to racing with an important project. However, we can't go forward like this. We are not able to continue to pull along this heavy weight that ruins our image, and now Ball also understands this. It is not enough to advertise and show off models."