On Monday, during a press conference, Stefano Garzelli said Gilberto Simoni could be a kind of “ally” to him in the next, challenging stage finishing into Faenza, and crossing the Appenninic mountains. Just a hilly stage, but insidious enough that it might cost dearly to any of the main favorites, or re-shape the GC at least. And the Vini Caldirola-SO.DI. leader thought that himself and Simoni could help each other putting most time into other overall challengers (Casagrande, Aitor González etc.).
Garzelli couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of becoming his ally, Simoni turned into the greatest threat to the man’s overall leadership. Gibo attacked where nobody expected to, on the Monte Casale ascent, with about 40 km. to go, and gained up to a minute over his main challenger. Garzelli partially bridged the gap, and came close to catch him, but eventually Simoni came in 25” ahead of the 2000 Giro winner, and stole him the pink jersey by just 2”.
Stefano Garzelli didn’t sound too upset anyway: “I didn’t counter Simoni’s attack. I rode at my own pace, and with my teammates beside. And it’s ok to me. The Giro is a long race, with a long way to go”.
On the other side of the coin, a very emotional, Gilberto Simoni couldn’t even believe he had taken the overall leader’s jersey, and asked RAI’s Alessandra De Stefano if it was true. When he got a positive answer, the Saeco team teader almost broke into tears “Thank God !! This jersey means everything to me” were his words. Its is not difficult to believe him, especially after his comeback to the Giro, following the annus horribils 2002, marked by his exclusion from the Italian GT, followed by exclusion from the TdF as well.
In further post-race interviews, Gilberto Simoni added more comments on his surprising, and successful, move: “Today I must congratulate myself. When I broke away I thought “Now I’m going to damage myself”. It was an act of madness indeed, but Lady Luck helped me instead, and gave me the pleasure to wear this pink jersey, even if by a narrow margin”.
”I have taken some risks today, but I was also lucky enough to find some breakaway companions that were well-determined to make it to the line, even if they were tired. I attacked where nobody expected to, and surprised Garzelli, then I heard that they were chasing, that the gaps were going up and down, 20 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds and so on.
More details concerning Gibo’s attack: ”I made my move as I was feeling good and wanted to shake things up, and thought that if I joined the guys in the break, anyone of them could help me. I told Martino (Saeco’s DS Giuseppe Martinelli) “I want to go now. Is it ok to you ?" and he said “If you want to, just do it!” And this time facts proved me right. Well, I didn’t think the peloton would let me go. But when the gap went up to 30” I thought “And now they have to catch me”. I slowed down a bit on the ascent, I could go faster than that. But I am lucky to wear this jersey now. First I didn’t believe I had taken it, as I still remember the Montebelluna stage, where I missed the jersey by 1 second only. Yes, I had chance today.
Other cycling personalities gave their opinion on Simoni’s attitude: Former professional (and excellent track rider) Silvio Martinello: Today we expected attacks from other riders, the ones not going for the overall, or the Terminillo losers at least. On the contrary, we saw a great Simoni make his move.
When I watched him on TV, I thought he was taking a risk, instead I have to say he’s a great rider, aware of his skills, in an excellent condition and with a hugely motivatd, that will likely accomplish even bigger things. He’s the man to beat after all. And now we can see him in maglia rosa, probably with the best-equipped team for this kind of situations.
As for the stage outcome, we saw this interesting youngster beloging to Team fakta-Pata Chips taking line honors. And now let’s wait and see what‘s going to happen in the upcoming mountain stages. After the GC changed that way on the Terminillo, that is not a very difficult ascent, what can happen on the highest climbs ?
Claudio Ferretti (Rai TV Journalist, not to be confused with Fassa’s DS Giancarlo): This Giro edition is among the best ones I have ever seen. Day after day, it has many surprises in store. Simoni himself said that when he attacked he thought it was an hazard. This morning, before the start, nobody would have predicted such a stage outcome. Nobody would have picked Simoni as main protagonist. Everyone expectdd him to save his legs for the Zoncolan, something that would have been more profitable for Gibo. And when asked why he attacked, Simoni replied “because I was feeling good”. That was a great way to promote cycling. Simoni took many risks, his advantage was minimal at a point, and shrinked down to 10”. Had things taken a different turn, we’d be here talking of a actical mistake; it was a purely passionate move instead.
Franco Bitossi (one of the best-known Italian pros of the 70s): In my opinion the Vini Caldirola–SO.DI. team made a mistake and spent too many energies chasing Bertagnolli (Simoni’s teammate, “virtual Maglia Rosa” for some time, when he was in the first break). Bertagnolli isn’t a GC threat after all. They should have let him take the jersey, and be more careful about Simoni instead.
Davide Cassani (One more former pro turned TV commentator): Simoni attacked where nobody expected him to do. He probably saw that the route was going uphill enough for him, realized that he was fit, and made his move. Garzelli’s big problem was that today Eddy Mazzoleni was not in the same form as he was Saturday on the Terminillo, and couldn’t be much of help to his team leader. I think Simoni is aware of Garzelli’s limits and, even more, of the Caldirola team’s limits. Garzelli got a help from Casagrande, as limiting time losses to Simoni was in their common interest. But I think Garzelli was lucky to lose the jersey, if he had kept him (with such a team) things could have been worse for him”
Paolo Tiralongo (Ceramiche Panaria Fiordo. Second in the stage): I knew that with such a route a breakaway group would form early in the stage. So I was at the front of the bunch since the beginning and got into the break, trying to save my legs as much as possible. Honestly, when Simoni caught me, I didn’t think I could stay on his wheels. But in the break there was also the guy who eventually claimed the stage. I knew that he is fast rider, so I forced the pace on the last part of the Trebbio climb, hoping to drop him. But it didn’t work. As for Simoni, he’s really going fast, I think he has no rivals in this year’s Giro.
More comments from the Panaria team: DS Bruno Reverberi "I’m satisfied with the team performance today: Tiralongo was runner-up and Figueras led the bunch home and snatched fifth place. Maybe, with a little bit of luck, we could even win the stage, but we accept the result, and hope that Pérez Cuapio may get back to his winning ways in the next days. He wasn’t good recently, but still remains the great climber we all know".
Panaria’s Giuliano Figueras On the alleged “crisis” of Julio Alberto Pérez Cuapio: "it’s not the first time Julio is in trouble in the first difficult stages. But in the past he showed that, when the big mountains come, he could be there with the others. And I hope that also this year things may go that way".
Francesco Moser (Italy’s cycling legend and Simoni’s fellow townsman): The attack from Gilberto and the use of Bertagnolli were smart team tactics. But maybe he spent too many energies. There’s a long way to go before the end after all. If I had been Simoni, I wouldn’t have kept pushing hard in the flat part, when Garzelli’s bunch was nearing”
Ercole Baldini (1958 World Road Championship winner): I knew that this stage was a difficult, significative one, which could tell us the names of who’s not going to win the race at least. Stages like this, where nobody expect big names to attack, may have big suprises in store. Simoni is one of my red hot favourites to claim the Giro, and also in today’s stage he has proved that he’s a great rider, even though I am not a fan of any cyclist in particular. I like them all.
Fabiano Fontanelli (Mercatone Uno-Scanavino:: Pantani had a decent performance today and finished together with the best ones, in the pink jersey bunch. He’s satisfied with that. Nobody expected Simoni to attack today, but we are confident that Marco can get better in the next days. He’s working well, and we believe he can do something important in stages to come”
Some words on the Cipo vs. Leblanc topic. Domina Vacanze’s Team Manager Vincenzo Santoni sounded a bit more confident “I think we may find the way to take our team and Mario Cipollini to the Tour, and if Cipo takes part in the race, I’m sure he’ll get to Paris” but also unhappy because of one particular reason.”A team can’t wait too long for decisions to be made anyway. We need to know things before, such that we may start our specific build-up in time”.
According to Italian TV, the Lampre team would probably file a lawsuit against Jean-Marie Leblanc, after some declarations from the Tour Boss, who reportedly said that the Italian team should not insist, as after the Rumsas affair they’ll never be awarded a wild-card.
And finally some words from today’s stage winner: 28-year-old Norwegian National Road Champion Kurt Asle Arvesen, also U23 Road World Champion in San Sebastian in 1997 (who speaks a fluent Italian, as he spent two years with Italy’s Zalf Desiree Fior team as an amateur) "I have been thinking about this stage throughout the first part of the Giro, and today I made my move and won, things couldn’t go better. In the break both Simoni and I were giving it all, so we could talk just a little bit, but not too much. It wasn’t easy to find an agreement on the stage winner, as there were three guys eager for victory. I spent two years with Davide Boifava (Riso Scotti team) at my debut in the pro ranks, things were difficult at the beginning, but now it’s getting better".