After Friday’s last mountain top finish, Gilberto Simoni is just two days away from getting the greatest result so far in his career, and winning the Tour of Italy for the second time after he broke the ice in 2001.
But twelve months ago his world had just turned upside-down: after he tested non negative for cocaine, the Saeco staff couldn’t stand the pressure from other teams (the last two editions of the Corsa Rosa were marked by Carabinieri raids and a kinda witch-hunt, involving more than one rider) and withdrew Simoni from the race. Then the “Auntie’s candy” story came out and the rider was cleared of any doping-related accusations. But his 2002 season was spoiled (also due to JML’s decision to exclude Saeco from the TdF bacause of the “Simoni affair”). A series of event Gibo did not appreciate that much.
One year later, the rider from Palú di Giovo is back. Looking for redemption. And revenge too. He let his legs talk first, dominated the race and took three stages. Including today’s ride into Cascate del Toce/Formazza, when his “cannibal-like” attitude was critizcied, as the pink jersey wearer, leading his closest rival by more than 8 minutes, didn’t let anyone else go and win the stage. And in post-stage interviews more polemics came when explained his behaviour, and went on he attack again. This time off the bike.
“At the beginning of the stage, I wasn’t thinking about winning today. But when the fireworks started, I thought that it was time to go, and that I wanted to take back what had been taken away from me (last year). So I didn’t care about anyone else, I just walked my way and won. Last year they (other riders) wanted me to leave the race, and today I took this win, that belongs to me, nobody else but me. I didn’t want to make any gift. Nobody did it to me. Neither I did want them to do. I don’t like to steal victories. If anyone wants to win a stage, all he has to do is going fast”.
Despite dedicating Friday’s stage victory to himself, Simoni was once more full of praises for the team: “The help I got from my teammates in this Giro was fundamental. If I’m at the Top of the GC, it’s also because of them; sometimes they make me wanna win just for them”.
Simoni also replied to people reminding him of all the times GT overall leaders conceded victory to other riders in mountain stages: “It’s true that the likes of Armstrong and Indurain often did it. But are they used to let other riders win the Time Trials ? I am a climber, and if I want to take some wins, these (the mountains) are the places”.
As for today’s stage “I chased down Pantani the first time, and Frigo did the rest. Today we didn’t go fast in the first part of the stage, and I was in alittle trouble then, but the pace sped up to 38-39 km/h later, and I found back some good legs, and the fighting attitude”.
So do you think you have the race won now, Gilberto ? “Well, not yet. Milan is still far away. And I don’t want to think about that now anyway”.
Andrea Noé was asked to reply to Simoni’s words: “I don’t know what to say about what happened last year. Just wanna remind you that Simoni was not the lone ranger, as also Garzelli had been excluded from the race for similar reasons (actually the situations were a bit different tough). Sure that, when it comes to this year’s Giro, Simoni fully deserved to win. He’s has proved the best, and his team too. So kudos to him”.
Noé’s teammate Franco Pellizotti sounded a bit upset at Simoni’s attitude ON the bike: “Last year he had to pull out of competition because of facts we all know well. But this time he has proved the strongest in the mountains, and deserved to win. As for today’s stage, I tried to go clear, but he bridged the gap and then attacked again. I am a bit disappointed, as I thought he just wanted to keep control of the situation, as I was 10 minutes behind him in the overall. But it seems he was eager for victory, so bravo to him”.
If Pellizotti was disppointed at Simoni’s “cannibal-like” attitude, who else but Eddy Mercxk’s main victim Felice Gimondi could find the most appropriate words to console him ? “I know Pellizotti’s feelings. I used to feel the same when racing, because of a certain colleague of mine that used to drop everyone and win everything, even without the “need” to take revenge that Simoni may have now. What I can say to Pellizotti is just “go ahead and you’ll see that sooner or later, good results will come”.
More words from today’s protagonists, to start from Eddy “Ideal Domestique” Mazzoleni (Vini Caldirola-SO.DI.): “I think I have done a good job throughout the Giro. I stayed beside Stefano when he was in trouble, and in the last part of today’s stage I was feeling good, so asked Garzelli if I could go, and he let me go. But Simoni was way too strong, I couldn’t match him in any way. Nonetheless I am satisfied with my performance”.
Stefano Garzelli (as usual wearing a white cap): “Due to the consequences of yesterday’s crash, I had to stay in the saddle today. Thus I told my teammates to keep the pace high to avoid attacks in the last part of the stage. I saved my second placing for just two seconds (smiles), now let’s wait and see what’s going to happen within two days. Popovych is a fast time-triallist and … well, if I can’t keep my second place, I’ll finish third anyway”.
Garzelli on his great domestique: “Mazzoleni has accomplished an extraordinary job all through the race. Today, with just 2 km. left, I told him that he could go, as at that point my grinta was all I needed to save myself”.
Garzelli on a certain former teammate of his: “I’m happy of Pantani’s comeback, and of the fact he has found back his combative attitude and can attack again. That’s good for cycling fans as well. He still lacks something, notably if compared to Simoni, who’s flying now. But Marco’s condition is getting better, and if he goes to the Tour, he can put in some show. I hope he may go to France, but I don’t think it will be easy”.
And ”The Pirate”, although not too talkative after today’s stage, sounded optimist about his chances of being at the startline in Paris, probably with the “new” Bianchi team. But soon later a member of the Team Bianchi staff itself, namely the same Felice Gimondi, downplayed all the fuss on this subject and Pantani’s chances to join Ullrich’s squad for the “Grand Boucle:” “We met the Mercatone guys and talked about the possibility of doing something together in 2004 or 2005. But not about Pantani at the Tour de France. I want to remind you that our team is based on the previous Team Coast, which was in financial trouble. A team with two leaders, two great riders already: Ullrich and Casero. And a leader needs a full team to support him, as the Tour is no easy race, you can’t send a rider there and just tell him “ok, you here, now go ride”. So it will be difficult to see that star-studded (but difficult to handle) team in France.
Dario Frigo displayed a condition similar to the previous day, but couldn’t grab stage victory this time “Compared to the first part of the Giro, things have improved a lot for me. When Pellizotti and Simoni made their move today I was having some troubles, so I couldn’t follow. I recovered soon later, but Simoni was simply going too fast. Not by chance he’s going to win the Giro”.
Alessandro Petacchi who finished outside time limit on Tuesday, couldn’t take the start in Friday’s stage. But nevertheless he will be at Piazza Duomo on Sunday, where he’ll be given he “Trofeo Bonacossa”, usually awarded to the man with the greatest achievements in the Giro. And winning six stages in a single edition of the race is no small achievement for sure.