Most people assume that Ricco calls himself “The Cobra” because of his attacking style and reputation for venomous strikes aimed at opponents, both on and off the bike. But in fact, the reason behind the nickname has nothing to do with his tactics or personality, instead owing itself to his long term fascination with an American cartoon.
Ricardo Ricco never cared that G.I. Joe was a real American hero, as the theme song claims. When watching the cartoon as a young boy in Italy, he found himself identifying more with the terrorist Cobra Command Organization – especially their leader, Cobra Commander. It was not long before little Ricardo was running around with a blue hood on, screaming “Cobra!!!” at the top of lungs as he continually antagonized his fellow classmates.
When asked about his somewhat unhealthy obsession with such a villainous character, Ricco is quick to point out that Cobra Commander was simply misunderstood and pressured into global terrorism by the competitive culture of mid-80’s cartoons. The Italian climber responds similarly when asked about his fascination with Marco Pantani, although he adamantly stresses that he doesn’t believe Cobra Commander ever used EPO.
The sport of cycling has a number of individuals who have taken on nicknames associated with characters from children’s programs and cartoons such as David Rebellin (Tintin), Michael Rasmussen (The Chicken) and Manuel Beltran (Triki – a Spanish Cookie Monster) among others. While Ricco admits that his chosen moniker is not original in this sense, he firmly contends that “The Cobra” is better because “the bad guys are always way cooler than the good guys. I mean, why do you think I signed with Saunier-Duval?”
After acknowledging that the majority of the public mistakenly thinks he named himself after a snake, Ricco admits that he rarely corrects people anymore. “I originally started calling myself Cobra Commander, which pretty much kept things clear, but I thought that may have sounded a bit arrogant. And the last thing I want is to be seen as cocky. I mean, everyone already knows that I’m the best climber in the history of the world – so why should I need to include ‘Commander’ in there?”
“The Cobra is a good enough nickname for now. Maybe after a few more glorious victories in which I hypnotize the competition with my reptilian stare, the other riders and media will begin to refer to me as Cobra Commander anyway. In fact, I am certain they will. COBRA!!!”
While this last part remains to be seen, it seems clear that unless Garmin-Chipotle or Columbia signs Sgt. Slaughter or Snake Eyes in the offseason, The Cobra may be here to stay. Reports that Leonardo Piepoli is going to paint his head silver and start calling himself “Destro” have not been confirmed.