Cycling is shy on celebrities the way Alaska is shy on summer. Sure, we’ve got some guys who will command autographs if they are at a table at Interbike with Sharpie in-hand, but the number of cyclists who are known to all cycling fans is smaller than you’d think, and the number of pro cyclists who are known worldwide … well, you could fit them in a clown car without the fancy tricks.
I’ve been in Mario Cipollini’s presence a couple of times. He’s truly a larger-than-life character, a man whose movements will be followed by everyone in the room—even in Italy, or maybe especially in Italy. He’s fun to watch, perhaps because he’s so conscious of the image he imparts. He regales in something that would make many cringe. It’s a particular kind of attention, the sort for which reality show cast members clamor.
But of course the Lion King actually earned his. With 57 grand tour stage victories, he’s second on the all-time list, just behind Eddy Merkcx. Cipollini is one for the ages.
He recently visited Ferrari of San Francisco, which is probably the only place on this coast suitable to the shadow he casts. I’ve been curious about his line because there have been some impressive assertions made about the bikes’ construction, including one that is a true, one-piece monocoque frame.
There have been lots of pros who have launched their own bike lines. Some of have been very successful, such as Merckx. Some, like Greg LeMond’s line, have enjoyed sporadic success, while others, such as Fausto Coppi’s, have waned in appeal. And then there’s Bernard Hinault’s line, which should have been hugely popular, but every attempt to bring the bikes into the U.S. has failed, not so much miserably as anonymously.
So why should Cipollini’s line be any different? Well, as I mentioned, it appears that the line is receiving real engineering resources, which suggests that it’s being funded by something other than the sale of a few of Cipollini’s spent supercars. There’s also the fact that the team assembled around the brand here in the U.S. is composed of people I’ve known and worked with for more than 10 years. If they didn’t believe they could get the line into bike shops and get bike mechanics to believe in them, they wouldn’t go near the brand.
And then there’s Ferrari itself. They needn’t lend their name to anything half-assed. So while I didn’t learn a single new thing about the bikes, I got to see a genuine star for an evening.