Mario Cipollini was only third in the Tour of California sprint in Sacramento behind Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) but was happy to have proved to himself, his younger rivals and the controversial owner of the Rock Racing team Michael Ball, that he could still be competitive at 40 after three years in retirement.

?I don?t want to seem big headed but I could have won that sprint if Cavendish hadn?t got a gap and the sprint had been straight forward,? Cipollini told Cycling Weekly with a hint of emotion in his voice seconds after crossing the line.

?I felt good and was up for it with 600 metres to go. I saw that Ciolek let Cavendish go but didn?t fall into the trap of going after him and leading out the sprint. Unfortunately, that meant I was a bit blocked in and didn?t even get out of the saddle, but I could feel I had the legs to win it.?

?It?s crazy to be up there in the sprints if I think about it. I?m racing against the best present and future sprinters in the sport but I?m competitive. Some of them are young enough to be my children and that?s amazing if you think about it.?

?I?m happy just to be here because I?m 40. I?ve been away for three years and I?m riding with a leg and a half after smashing my kneecap in a skiing accident. My comeback has always been a personal challenge. In a way I?m sorry if I steal the limelight from the younger riders but egotistically I really like testing myself against impossible challenges.?

Cipollini explained that the idea of his comeback started in a Las Vegas nightclub at the annual US bike show.

?Everything has been very strange since the very beginning. All of this started in a club in Las Vegas where I met Michael Ball,” said Cipollini. “He came up to me, introduced himself and told me about his team. He asked him if I would like to start racing again. I thought he was just another crazy person like a lot of others I?ve met in my career. At the time there were a lot of beautiful women around, so I was more interested in the women than in what Michael Ball had to say but he kept talking and put a lot of pressure on me.?

?We decided to meet again the next day and everything started from there. There was the idea of working together to create a high-profile team using my experience. At first I agreed to do some racing in the States and I planned to ride some criteriums. Then I was asked to take part in the Tour of California. There were some bureaucratic problems we had to go through to get me on the team and everything was only resolved on Thursday. I got here on Friday.?

“It?s hard to get over the jet lag but I?m getting better. After third here perhaps I can move up to second and may be first in Pasedena.?

TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: STAGE REPORTS

Stage two: Boonen wins in the rain
Stage one: Haedo wins sprint
Prologue: Cancellara wins

TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Video highlights: stage one
Video highlights: prologue

RELATED LINKS
Tour of California: photo gallery
Cipollini: “Third here is worth a hundred other victories”
Stage two: Cavendish angry after sprint mix-up
Cancellara angry with Hamilton, Sevilla, Botero protests
Cancellara: “I always have to win prologues”
Wiggins and Millar unhappy with prologue rides
Tour of California: preview