It was always a tense and difficult relationship, but it seems that Mario Cipollini?s dreams of creating a European-based team for 2009 have ended before they really began after the Italian rider failed to reach a deal with Rock Racing’s controversial owner and sponsor Michael Ball.

Cipollini?s return to racing in the Tour of California was a success, but according to Tuesday?s Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, the Italian has now broken off talks with Ball and has already formally requested the termination of his contract so that he can ride Saturday?s Milan-San Remo with another team.

Cipollini has been training hard for six months and had hoped to ride Milan-San Remo on the day of his 41st birthday as a way of launching his European team. Now those plans lie in tatters, and Cipollini is trying to find another team so that this year’s Milan-San Remo becomes the last race of his career.

Gazzetta claim that the Tinkoff team is the favourite to reach a quick deal with Cipollini. However he has still to receive formal notification of the end of his contract from Rock Racing, and there are other problems to be resolved including which bike Cipollini uses if he does ride Milan-San Remo for Tinkoff.

Cipollini was free to sign personal contracts at Rock Racing but Tinkoff is sponsored by Colnago, and it is difficult to imagine that the Italian bike builder will let Cipollini ride with a rival company?s bike.

Yet again Cipollini is facing a race against time if he wants to celebrate his birthday on the road between Milan and San Remo. Perhaps just like at the Tour of California, we will only find out if Cipollini actually rides Milan-San Remo if he turns up at the start in the centre of Milan on Saturday morning.

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No Milan-San Remo for Cipo