Is Mario Cipollini set to come out of retirement and make a comeback in the USA, riding for the controversial Rock Racing team?

In the last few days the hints and rumours on the internet that the former world champion and playboy sprinter ? who will be 41 in March ? is set to come out of retirement have escalated and Cycling Weekly has been told by several sources on both sides of the Atlantic that Cipollini will riding criteriums for Rock Racing in the USA in 2008.

The rumours of a return first began after SuperMario rode (and crashed) in an unofficial criterium in Las Vegas during the annual bike show. Cipollini got to know former racer and controversial Rock & Republic CEO Michael Ball at the after-race party and the rumours of a comeback quickly began. Both quickly denied a contract had been signed but the rumours have returned as more information emerges.

It now seems Cipollini will ride as a veteran as part of the Rock Racing club team, competing in US races that do not come under UCI international rules. Cipo is set to combine his famous sprint finish with his playboy image to give Rock & Republic a new star model for their clothes.

150KM WITH BASSO AND BARTOLI
To try and get to the bottom of the story, Cycling Weekly contacted Mario Cipollini on Monday. He admitted he knows Michael Ball but denied he was planning to race again, insisting he rides his bike because he likes to keep fit.

However, Cipollini is riding his bike for reasons than just to keep his love handles under control.

Recently he has been spotted doing speed training behind a car near his home in Lucca and reportedly went out for a 150km training ride with Ivan Basso and Michele Bartoli during the New Year holidays. Despite being banned for doping since May, Basso has continued to train hard and Bartoli is also very fit but Cipollini apparently made both of them suffer during the ride.

Cycling Weekly understands Cipollini is set to travel to the USA for a Rock Racing training camp in the next few weeks. The Rock Racing team refused to comment when we asked them about Cipollini via email. However, on their website they reveal that their plans for the future include working with a European team.

Could Cipollini about to become the team?s star veteran rider in 2008 and then the manager of a European team in 2009?