Dario Cioni has announced his retirement from professional bike racing but is happy to remain within the Team Sky heading into 2012. The 37-year-old joined the team at its inception in 2010. Despite calling time on his career, with his final race having been in October at Il Lombardia, Cioni is looking forward to a new role which will see him help forge closer relationships with the team’s Italian partners and the Italian media.
“I’ve been racing for 20 years and turned 37 in December and know that I can’t race for ever even though I’d love to. One starts to look forward and when Dave [Brailsford] proposed this role I understood it was the right moment to start with the new job,” said Cioni. “I have a degree in international business with sports management and it looks like the perfect way to continue in the sport and with the team.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my career. My family has always been there and there are too many others to mention by name but they’ve all helped me at various points and it’s thanks to them that I’ve had the career I have.”
The Italian began racing as a teenager not on the road, but as a mountain biker and rode at an elite level before being one of the first to make the transition as part of a growing trend. Actually born in Reading, England, Cioni spent three years with the Mapei squad – one of the cycling superpowers at the turn of the millennium – racing alongside the likes of Paolo Bettini, Oscar Freire, a young Fabian Cancellara and Team Skys own Michael Rogers.
“I’ve been really lucky to be in good teams. At the time I was with the Mapei mountain bike team, Aldo Sassi [the trainer who tragically passed away in December 2010] believed I had a good engine and decided I should have a go on the road. Hes always been very important in my career. I started with him in 1992 and basically hes been my only coach in my whole career.”
Cioni is best known for his exploits at the Giro dItalia, taking in nine editions of the Grand Tour in a career that saw him compete in an impressive 19 in total. His best result came in 2004 where, riding in Fassa Bortolo colors, he took fourth place overall at the Giro, a performance stamped with a narrow second place on the 18th stage to Bormio. Not surprisingly that features among his personal highlights.
“I would have liked to make it 20 Grand Tours but I guess youve got to stop at some point. My first Giro is up there because its always special and the Giro I got fourth in is too of course. But I would also say the Vuelta this year was also one of the best Grand Tours Ive ridden in as a team. We had two guys in contention for the red jersey right up until the last day and it was a really good atmosphere all the way round with the riders and the staff. I would put it as one of my highlights and it was also my last Grand Tour so a good way to finish.”
Cioni also took the Italian National Time Trial Championship in 2004, beating a strong field in Terra di Pisa to secure a huge honor on his palmares. Cioni has also played a key role off the bike during his career.
“Ive been the rider representative on what was first the ProTour and is now the WorldTour. I started in 2005 and now Im one of the representatives on the new group which was wanted by the Olympic Committee. It’s the UCI Athletes Commission which first met last month and it includes members from the whole cycling family so there are three of us from mens road racing – me, Philippe Gilbert and Bernhard Eisel – while it also covers mountain bike, track, cyclocross, BMX and paracycling, all for both men and women. “It’s important to me and it’s something I’d like to carry on doing.”
His Sky teammates were quick to pay tribute to the Italian, with Bradley Wiggins saying he has fond memories of riding alongside Cioni, most recently at the successful Vuelta a Espana. He said: Me and Dario had a very special relationship. I had a lot of time for him and there was a lot of mutual respect. He was one of the riders that I most enjoyed being away with. It was a shame that he had to retire but it happens to everyone at some point. But its great to know that he is still going to be around and were still going to see him at races. So it’s the start of a new career but at the same time he is still very much part of the family.
Sports Director Sean Yates is another man happy to see the Italian remain at the team, adding: When the team was set up we knew Dario was a great addition with his experience, especially at the Giro. He was always good with the younger guys, keen as mustard and always being professional so he set a good example for those guys. He also worked with the riders association and hes a well-spoken and well respected guy.