No more than 48 hours hours after the end of the Giro d’Italia he dominated. Gilberto Simoni was back in the saddle. With the “maglia rosa” firmly on his shoulders, and his rosa helmet on too, Giboman got back on his “spider” bike and took part in the “Criterium Cittá di Broni”, an yearly event held in the Lombard town of Broni (current hometown of Russian-born 1994 Giro d’Italia winner Eugeni Berzin) on Tuesday evening.
A pic of Italy's most famous bike (Can you see the spider??)
And results did not change: one more time “Gibo d’Italia” finished at the top of the podium, edging out all of his rivals. Things didn’t change for Yaroslav Popovych either. Just like in the Tour of Italy, the gutsy Ukrainian displayed his talent and combative attitude and, just like in the Giro, he snatched third place overall.
Without Stefano Garzelli attending, the second place getter part was played by one of the most promising youngsters in the Italian cycling scene: Saeco’s Leonardo Bertagnolli. The 25–year-old from Trento, already a protagonist in the (decisive) Faenza stage at the Giro, when the help he gave to fellow “trentino” Gilberto Simoni on the Appennine hills proved fundamental, didn’t miss the chance to give a hand to his team leader again, but also went for (and got) some personal glory.
But, all things considered, the biggest winner yesterday night at Broni was nothing else but … CYCLING!!! The 2003 Giro was “redemption time” for this sport in Italy, after all the scandals and the unpleasant affairs which tarnished the previous editions. Factors like Simoni’s dominance and the contemporary return of a ”dualism” (this time between him and Garzelli), plus the emergence of young talents like Popovych, the “Cipo effect”, Pantani’s long-awaited comeback, the presence of new stars like Petacchi, and, last but not least, the absence of Carabinieri’s spectacular raids in hotel rooms, positively affected the state of cycling in this country.
And the “Broni night” just gave us a further proof. Whereas last year (read the 2002 report HERE, and don’t be impressive by the lastest words: the crowd wasn’t that huge, at least if compared to this year’s) right after the end of the most dramatic and scandal-torn edition of the race, we could comfortably walk along the Broni streets with plenty of space at our disposal, this time it was difficult for us to thread our way through the crowd that filled the streets of the Oltrepó Pavese hamlet. And never difficulties have been more welcomed than in this case. A very good sign for cycling.
One thing the 2002 and 2003 editions (as well as all previous ones) of this event had in common was the race format: two different legs, the first one being a short, but very demanding uphill ITT on the San Contardo ascent (a hill with a small sanctuary at its top), the second being a one-hour Road Race held over a 1.7-km. circuit in the Broni streets.
Yaroslav Popovych learning to become a celebrity
San Contardo hill – a little Zoncolan
The San Contardo uphill TT featured a first, flat half in downtown Broni. But once riders turned right, it was a whole different matter (even for Yours Truly, who had to walk his way to the top): a 700-meter ascent, with a maximum gradient going up to more than 20%. That’s the kind of places where you can really see who’s hot and who’s not (or maybe just less hot) when the streets keeps going uphill.
And among the “nots” we could include Angelo Furlan. The Alessio fastman certainly is one of the best sprinters around, but when there’s two numbers beside the word ”gradient”, you may bet riders like him will remind you that cycling is also struggling, is also making huge efforts. Regardless of all the efforts he made in order to get to the finish, the man from Altavilla Vicentina didn’t lose his smile and likeableness, and kept signing autograph after autograph as he crossed the line and was surrounded by teenies (and not just teenies) doing their favorite sport, autograph hunting.
Furlan wasn’t the lone ranger though: Sabino Cannone, Ruslan Gryschenko (bronze medallist in the U23 Road Race at the 2001 Worlds, when his then and now team-mate Yaroslav Popoyvch burst into spotlight by taking the title), and others kept struggling as they hit San Contardo, some of these guys also being caught and dropped by better climbers who took the start behind them.
But when the likes of Codol, Noé, Pellizotti, Simoni, Popovych and Bertagnolli came to the top, then it was a whole different matter, and even to climb the San Contardo was looking like a (relatively) easy task. It was young Bertagnolli who, to the surprise of many, set the best time, a record that kept unbeaten until the end, even after in-form Popovych finished his ITT, and clocked the second best time, a few seconds behind the tall man in red colors.
Right behind Popovych, the last competitor to tackle the San Contardo was Gilberto Simoni. The pink-jerseyed, and partially pink-headed as well, Italian set the fourth best time. Enough for him to get points for the GC (only the top 6 placed riders got points) but not to take the win in the first leg.
But the dozens of fans who challenged the San Contardo slopes and reached the top couldn’t care less about the result. All they wanted was an autograph from Gibo and/or a picture of him (even better if it was a picture of Simoni and themselves together).
The first half of the criterium was over, so it was time to move back to Broni for riders (pulling the brake to avoid ending up like Garzelli & Pantani at Sampeyre), spectators and the DP crew (pulling the brake on their legs … to avoid ending up like Garzelli & Pantani at Sampeyre too).
The “Gibo & Popo” show
Simoni, "pretty in pink," and teammates at the startline
Once the steep slopes of San Contardo were just a matter of the past, all 38 participants took the start of the second and final leg: the 1-hour Road Race, also featuring two “intermediate sprints” at the 20 and 40-minute mark respectively. Corner after corner, building after building, cobbled section after cobbled section, the Simonis, Popovychs, Palumbos and Caucchiolis battled it out for sixty minutes.
The fireworks started right after the flag was dropped, courtesy of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Bileka (a member of LBK-Colnago’s conspicuous contingent in the race) and Italian Mauro Gerosa. The duo broke away in the very first lap, but couldn’t put more than a dozen seconds on a peloton looking well-determined to chase down any attempt (even though the chasing work, in such a “nervous” route whose longest straight was about 100m long, was far from being an easy task).
Bileka and his break companion were caught soon, but more and more skirmishes came, with several small breakaway groups forming (usually containing 4-5 to 8 riders) and the peloton putting in huge chasing efforts. As soon as any attempt got nullified, a new one was about to start.
Not surprisingly, the most active guys were the two main stars the field could boast: Simoni and Popovych. The Italian and the Ukrainian alternatively got into a break (and often enjoyed a help from their break companions) or took care of the chase, either being on the front driving the field or with their teammates (the Saeco train was made up of excellent “rouleurs” such as Sabaliausksas, Tonti and Bertagnolli, while LBK-Colnago replied with the likes of young Gryschenko, Bileka, Lucchini and last year’s “Freccia dei Vini” dominator Santo Anzá) doing the job.
Before the 20-minute mark Simoni got two teammates (Tonti and Sabaliauskas) into a 6-man break, just to make the Landbouwkrediet guys work. The chase proved successful as by one-third of the race it was “gruppo compatto” again. But then it was Furlan who benefitted the most from LBK’s work as the Alessio sprinter edged out Mauro Gerosa (Caldirola) and Fabio Baldato, bringing home some well-deserved prizes (Intermediate Sprints did not award any GC points instead) after all of his efforts on the San Contardo.
Then it was the turn of iper-active Caucchioli and Panaria’s Paolo Lanfranchi to make the break. They were joined by 4 more riders (including Cipo’s leadoutman Mario Scirea and young Frattini of Tenax), who put about 10” into the Saeco-led field, with Tonti and Simoni now up front leading the chase .
About halfway through the race, Gibo went on a solo attempt to bridge the gap, and succeeded. With Simoni and 6 more leaders putting 14” into the field, it was the turn of Popovych’s “army” to chase. But instead of a peloton regrouped again, we had 4-5 guys distancing themselves from the other chasers and getting across to join the leaders, leaving “Popeye” and teammates about a dozen seconds down.
Before the second Intermediate Sprint Gerosa, Mercatone’s Massimo Codol and Domina Vacanze’s Ongarato went on a 3-man break. Codol took the sprint at the 40-minute mark from Gerosa. The trio was caught, but Ongarato didn’t have enough of attacking, and broke clear again, this time along with a very illustrious partner: Gilberto Simoni. But chasing efforts from the Landbouwkrediet boys eventually bore fruit as “Gibo” and Ongarato (later) and all other 9 escapees (before) were absorbed bv the bunch.
Then Popo thought it was time to test the chasing skills of other teams (read: Saeco) and made his move. Seven more riders, first part of two different packs, later in a single 8-man break, agreed, and a group containing, among others, Pozzi, Barbero, Gasparre, Noé and Andriotto took the lead.
Then we could see the “Gibo vs. Popo” show reaching the top, with the Ukrainian pulling hard in the leading bunch (enjoying the help from some of his break companions), and Simoni putting in chasing efforts a dozen seconds behind.
Finally, when the bell marking the beginning of the last five laps was ringing, the peloton regrouped again. Everything ready for a bunch sprint ? No way! At least not before a five-strong break formed with three laps left, a sensational quintet featuring both Simoni and Popvoych, attacking together this time, and alomg with them were the Alessio duo Noé-Pellizotti and Mercatone Uno’s fastman Mario Manzoni.
Manzoni and Noé were chased down in the very last minute of the race, but the other saved a very slight lead and in the final sprint, in Broni’s Garibaldi Square, Simoni was the first across the line, while Pellizotti pipped the 23year-old Ukrainian into third place.
Thanks to the cumulative score he got by snatching fourth at San Contardo and first in the one-hour circuit (which he took in 2001 as well, but without winning the GC), Simoni could add the 2003 “Cittá di Broni” Criterium to his palmares. Bertagnolli and Popoych finished on the same score, but as the former had won one of the two legs this competition consisted of, he took second overall, with the remaining podium spot taken by the Ernesto Colnago’s favorite rider.
The “Broni night” ended with the crowd cheering and applauding Italy’s best rider as yet (Simoni thanked them all), and two Giro d’Italia winners shaking hands. as Eugenio Berzin, who celebrated his 33th birthday on the same day, personally greeted the man from Palú di Giovo.
RESULTS - SAN CONTARDO ITT – TOP 10 PLACES:
1. Leonardo Bertagnollii (Ita - Saeco) - 03'42" (10 pts)
2. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) - at 10" (6 pts)
3. Graziano Gasparre (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) - at 13" (4 pts)
4. Gilberto Simoni (Ita - Saeco) - at 14" (3 pts)
5. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita - Ceramiche Panaria-Fiordo) - at 17" (2 pts)
6. Franco Pellizzotti (Ita - Alessio) - at 21" (1 pt)
7. Andrea Noè (Ita - Alessio) - at 21"
8. Massimo Codol (Ita - Mercatone Uno-Scanabvino) - at 22"
9. Pietro Caucchioli (Ita - Alessio) - at 23"
10. Claudio Lucchini (Ita - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago).
RESULTS - BRONI CIRCUIT – TOP 10 PLACES:
1. Gilberto Simoni (Ita - Saeco) – 01h10’37” (10 pts)
2. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio) - s.t. (6 pts)
3. Yaroslav Popovych (Ita - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) - s.t. (4 pts)
4. Andre Noè (Ita - Alessio) - s.t. (3 pts)
5. Mario Manzoni (Ita - Mercatone Uno-Scanavino) - s.t. (2 pts)
6. Michele Gobbi (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) - s.t. (1 pt)
7. Michele Colleoni (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) - s.t.
8. Graziano Gasparre (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) - s.t.
9. Alberto Ongarato (Ita - Domina Vacanze-Elitron) - s.t.
10. Ruslan Gryshenko (Ita - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) – s.t.
FINAL GC – FULL RESULTS :
1. Gilberto Simoni (Ita - Saeco) - 13 points
2. Leonardo Bertagnollii (Ita - Saeco) - 10 points
3. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) – 10 points
4. Franco Pellizzotti (Ita - Alessio) – 7 points
5. Graziano Gasparre (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) – 6 points
6. Andrea Noè (Ita - Alessio) – 3 points.
7. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita - Ceramiche Panaria-Fiordo) – 2 points
7. Mario Manzoni (Ita - Mercatone Uno-Scanavino) – 2 points
9. Michele Gobbi (Ita - De Nardi-Colpack) – 1 point
Interviews - Popovych, Simoni and Noé speak out
And with some of the main protagonists speaking out on their future. To start from Popovych, not yet accustomed to the popularity he’s suddenly enjoying. “Some say I could win the Giro next year, but I think it’s bit too early for making such statements now. This year I was aiming for a Top 10 place, and I got an excellent result. I have no regrets even if I missed second place by such a narrow margin” One of the guys mostly confident in Popo’s chances for the 2004 Giro is LBK-Colnago’s DS Olivano Locatelli, but going for the pink next year will need another huge effort, similar (or even bigger) to six-month build-up that, as Locatelli himself admits, was needed to build Yaroslav’s climb to the Milan podium this year.
Whereas Popovych’s next “big” target is the 2004 Giro, Gilberto Simoni’s one is much closer: “People are waiting for big things from me now. Some expect me to win the Tour de France, or battle it out with Armstrong at least. But I don’t have to prove to anything to anyone. I will go to the TdF aware that nothing is impossible, but also that my Giro efforts will definitely take their toll. I don’t feel like a hero anwyay”.
Words that downplay much of the “Simoni challenges Armstrong” media hype, and are echoed by another rider we’ll see on the French roads, Andrea Noé: at the age of 34, and after coming close to a Giro podium spot, the Alessio climber is ready to make his debut in the biggest race. And at the age 34, the man from Magenta is capable to cast a glance at the upcoming TdF the way an experienced rider like him, who knows his stuff, can do “Armstrong and his team prepare meticulously for the Tour, which is their N.°1 target. If they put 6 or 7 minutes into their rivals in the Team time trial, something they are capable of, others will have to chase throughout the race. And besides that, Armstrong will have two more 50-km. ITTs at disposal, where he can put further time into his rivals. As for Simoni, he has got the mountain stages on his side, but hilly stages at the TdF are long but not that difficult, and it won’t be easy to build a solid leadership in such conditions”.
Full Image Gallery to come in the next days on the "Daily Peloton"