By Fabio and Janna Trevisanut
Cannondale's display of Simoni's 2003 Giro Bikes.
The company has introduced the super light Six 13 that Simoni calls
Gilberto Simoni and the Saeco begin their first big contest of the year, the
Giro d'Italia, today with high hopes and determination. Simoni is going for his
third Giro win but also has the Tour de France as a major objective.
The team's classic season did not go as well as planned, some see Simoni
as not as strong as protagonist Garzelli of Vini Caldirola, and strong man
Danilo Di Luca will surely be missed over the next three weeks.
this week team manager Claudio Corti said this about Simoni:
"Itís no secret he started off the season much more quietly than last year
but thatís all part of a precise plan. Gilberto is one of a few riders who will
ride both the Giro díItalia and the Tour de France with the intention of doing
well in both of them. His form has improved a lot in the last two weeks and I
think he will be in good form for the Giro and will improve as the race goes
Simoni says: "Iíve got the experience to know that I canít be
presumptuous and think Iíve already won the Giro. There are a lot of strong
contenders that I have a lot of respect for. Garzelli is just one example; he
was riding better than me before the Giro and so itís important to keep my feet
on the ground."†
"Iíve had a few problems, especially because of the bad weather. The constant
rain and cold in the early races affected my training with the most delicate
moment was in Spain in April. I rode quite well in the Tour of the Basque
Country and then got a result in the one-day race the Sunday after. However at
the Vuelta Aragona I felt out of form again and for a while I was worried."
But, he says, the Giro del Trentino "...was a big help. Perhaps it was because
I was racing near home and because the weather was finally good but things
finally started to go much better."
Nevertheless, the team is strong: as in the past it is completely built around
Simoni, with riders like Fornaciari, Spezialetti, Tonti and others doing
most of the job on the flats; with his most loyal domestique and fellow
Trentino Leonardo Bertagnolli (who accompanied Gibo in testing the Mortirolo
stage for RAI TV), and with one of two biggest novelties in this year's Giro
roster: Eddy Mazzoleni (fiancee to Ivan Basso's sister Elisa, by the way). It
was Gibo himself who, impressed by Eddy's work for Garzelli in 2003, wanted
the man to join Saeco.
If he goes
well, none of his teammates may have any opportunity to race for themselves anyway, and Corti says Simoni has prepared scrupulously for this race.
Talking about his preparation, Simoni said, "Itís obvious to talk about the
mountain finishes at Bormio and Falzes and they are very hard but I think the
most difficult stages are those with the most risks: The third stage with the
uphill finish at Corno alle Scale and in part the finish at Montevergine and in
Cesena could cause some problems. The fact that they come early in the race
means it will be important to be vigilant from the start to the finish of the
Giro, there is no alternative if you want to win."
Golden Boy Cunego
The other big novelty at Saeco this spring has been young Damiano Cunego. He has
impressed so far this season, and there have been speculations of a house battle
between Cunego and Simoni; will the man accede to a domestique role for Simoni
after his showdown at Giro del Trentino, that stirred comparisons between him
and Pantani† in parts of the Italian press?
Cunego, who is said to be modest and obviously is very hardworking, said this
week, "Itís true the numerous and important wins Iíve had in the last three
weeks have given me incredible motivation and created a lot of interest and Iím
going to start the Giro in the best possible form both physically and
psychologically, but I also know that doesnít mean Iím going to be a protagonist
in the Giro."
ďIím going to do well but itís not my turn to win.Ē
Taken at his word, Cunego will indeed support Simoni, being too young to take
the race into his own hands; with Simoni's help at
Trentino part of a broader plan that sees Cunego paying
him back in the "big" race, the Corsa Rosa.
But once again, the Italian press couldn't
help but draw comparisons from the past, with the same Pantani, who
started the 1994 Giro as Chiappucci's domestique at Carrera and ended up
stealing the show (and the team leadership), and even more with a certain
Fausto Coppi, who started the 1940 Giro as an average gregario of Gino
Bartali, and ended up as...Fausto Coppi, with Bartali even forced to work
for him! So racing aficionados may be casting their eye to the young Damiano as
well as to defending champion Simoni.
Corti puts Cunego in perspective: "...we shouldn't only think of Cunego in
this sense, even if heís in a state of grace. Bertagnolli has also been riding
well since the start of the season, while Mazzoleni will be an important part of
the team after showing what he can do in the Belgian classics. Szmyd and Tonti
are perfect stage race riders, while Fornaciari and Spezialetti will be key
workers and have lots of experience. Stangelj is also in form and will do his
job very well."
Saeco for the Giro d'Italia
1. Gilberto Simoni (Ita)
2. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita)
3. Damiano Cunego (Ita)
4. Paolo Fornaciari (Ita)
5. Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita)
6. Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita)
7. Gorazd Stangelj (Slo)
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol)
9. Andrea Tonti (Ita)