Why Mario Cipollini should just shut up

Brian Holm is like the Norse god Loki as he dances on his feet and grinds a closed fist into his other open palm. A deep, mischievous grin creases the Danish sports director’s face. 

Loki was the son of giants, and Holm is about to club one of those – Mario Cipollini – down a notch or five.

“I’ll say it,” he says with devilish wry. “Shut the f–k up, Cipollini.”

The retired Italian icon Cipollini is a regular VIP on the circuit, last week opting for the Giro d’Italia over the Amgen Tour of California where Holm directed Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) to a clean sweep of sprint stage victories.

Read: Fernando Gaviria: cycling’s ‘bottomless pit’ of power

Gaviria’s daring is such that one of the men specifically assigned to his lead-out, Iljo Keisse, 35, says the Colombian needs to, in the interest of safety, learn to brake before his Tour de France debut.


Holm (pictured above at the 2017 Rouleur Classic) knows the polemic of cycling’s sprint goliaths. He rode alongside Erik Zabel, helped raise adopted son Mark Cavendish, has overseen Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Elia Viviani and most recently Gaviria, who he believes will win a stage and challenge for the green jersey at this year’s Tour.

Asked how the burgeoning 23-year-old compares, Holm recalls a recently republished Rouleur interview with Cipollini from two years ago.

In it, Cipollini took his own club to Cavendish. He labelled the Manxman as someone who came “into a power vacuum when the world heavyweight title was vacant” and had a “train that made it like a stroll for him”.


Cavendish and Cipollini epitomise the archetypal, loud, playboy sprinters of old. They met in competition briefly at the 2008 Tour of California where Cavendish, then the same age as Gaviria now, unclipped one foot as he went by Cipollini in a time trial, mocking the decorated veteran returned from a three-year retirement. 

Read: Brian Holm vs Mark Cavendish, head-to-head with sprinter and mentor (part 1) 

It’s all in a day for Holm as he makes a point amidst the divine layers of mischief being weaved, stating removed sprinters of a bygone, big hair to brylcreem era can’t relate to and so shouldn’t critique a hairdryer styled generation.

“Most Italians are stylish but Mario always looked like a clone between Dame Edna and Krusty the Clown. He was way more Christmas tree than Francesco Moser and that’s a fact,” he says. 

“A rider who never sprinted on the Champs Elysees should never talk about other sprinters. Mario was sort of a track sprinter like Theo Bos — both fast and limited. Sure, Mario was a world champion but with that fantastic lead-out from the Italian team, Viviani could have won it in slippers.”


Gaviria in California wasn’t typecast but proved he is ready to be measured.

“The best sprinter ever was Freddy Maertens, second was Zabel, third [Olaf] Ludwig and fourth Cav,” says Holm. “Mario is not in the top 10 because he was always sat crying on the side of the road 12 days into the Tour.”

The sound of a team car ends the sorcery. Holm straightens to leave for the business day ahead – as Odin, fostering maybe a generation-changer giant.


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