World Champion Mario Cipollini edged Australian Robbie McEwen in a close sprint Monday to clinch his second straight stage victory in the Giro d'Italia and set an all-time record of 42 stage wins in the Italian cycling race.
The 36-year-old captain of the Domina Vacanze team won the ninth stage of the Giro the day after equaling Alfredo Binda's 70-year-old 41 stage wins mark and on the same day he was refused a wild card for starting in the 2003 Tour de France.
Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said in Paris that Cipollini and his Domina Vacanze teammates were excluded because they were not expected to be consistent throughout the French event.
"It's an unbelievable decision ... I don't think it possible that French organizers can leave the world champion out of the Tour," Cipollini said in the finish line area.
Cipollini fought off a strong comeback of the Australian cyclist in the final meters of a 160km leg from Arezzo to Montecatini Terme, in the Tuscan region.
Italy's Stefano Garzelli retained the pink jersey of overall leader, with a 31-second lead over second-place Gilberto Simoni and 54 seconds over third-place Andrea Noe. Garzelli and Simoni escaped unhurt from a spill that involved several cyclists 500m from the finish. Both were timed in the same time as the winner.
Monday's win improved Cipollini's career record to 185 in 15 years as a professional.
Alessandro Petacchi, the Giro leader in the initial stages, placed third in a replay of the top-three finish of the previous day at Arezzo.
However Petacchi and Latvian Andris Naudusz were being investigated by the Giro jury for trading pushes in the final kilometer as both were fighting for the best position in the sprint.
Cipollini, who completed the stage in three hours, 41 minutes, 58 seconds, said Leblanc's decision spoiled one of his greatest days.
"For the third year in a row they are leaving me home. It's an unfair decision that I can't understand ... I had been dreaming to win a stage at the Tour while wearing the jersey of world champion. I think the UIC [the International Cycling Union] should obtain the automatic inclusion of the world champion in the Tour," Cipollini said.
"Many French cycling fans for sure know who's Cipollini, while they hardly know the names of most French cyclists invited to the Tour," the world champion said.
McEwen, twice second to Cipollini in two days following a stage win at Vibo Valentia last Tuesday, said the decision of French organizers "is unfair and certainly hurts cycling."
"I would not be surprised if Mario gets the invitation next week," the Australian champion said. Cipollini countered "at this point I would not accept to go.''
The 21-stage Giro continues with a 202km hilly stage from Montecatini Terme to Faenza.