The last Rebel?
A date has been set for the hearing of Filippo Simeoni’s lawsuit against 7 time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
December 14th at the Gup del Tribunale di Latina, will finally see Simeoni’s case against Armstrong.
Simeoni was the main witness in the trial of Michele Ferrari who was found guilty of sporting fraud and malpractice.
Although Lance Armstrong said that if Ferrari were found guilty he would cease working with him, both on Italian TV and in the French Newspaper Le Monde in the weeks before the Tour de France 2003 he strongly backed his coach.
In response to this, Filippo Simeoni, lodged a charge of defamation against Lance Armstrong with courts in Paris and Italy. He alleges the American called him an "absolute liar" in an interview with the Le Monde newspaper and on Italian TV.
Simeoni gave evidence in the doping trial and was praised by the judge for his sincerity. Following Armstrongs statements he said, "We have to respond in court," he said. He is seeking €100,000 (£71,000) in damages.
"It's not a question of money. If I'm awarded money, I'll give it to charity," said Simeoni.
The appeal of Michele Ferrari was postponed on Tuesday this week.
Ferrari had appealed a 12-month suspended jail sentence handed to him by a Bologna court last year for sports fraud and malpractice. He was acquitted of the most severe charge of distributing health-threatening doping products.
Judges cited technicalities for the postponement. A new date was not immediately decided.
Armstrong, who has defended his ties to Ferrari, has not been mentioned in the trial.
Filippo Simeoni Vindicated but Bitter
Filippo Simeoni, who was a witness for the prosecution in the case against the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, comes out well in the judge's summary of the case that was published in January this year. The 33 year old rider had alleged that Doctor Ferrari had prescribed EPO to him and an anabolic (Andriol) between 1996 and 1997. He had also given a series of names and data which had been used in the investigation.
So was Simeoni a “liar” as some of the peloton had declared?
Not so, according to the judge, who commented, "None the arguments used by the defence of Ferrari is likely to undermine the credibility of Simeoni, whose declarations, on the contrary, are consolidated by a series of other elements collected during the lawsuit."
On 1st October 2004, Doctor Ferrari had been given a one year suspended year jail sentence and a fine of 900 euros.
On Monday January 18 2005, Filippo Simeoni, upon hearing the judge's reasoning, told the Italian Sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport: “I feel vindicated. It shows that I had told the truth about a phenomenon that everyone knew about, but that nobody denounced."
Doctor Ferrari’s highest profile client, 6-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, was at no time mentioned in the trial. As he had always maintained, he severed links with Ferrari immediately after the guilty verdict was announced, but also expressed his personal disappointment.
However, Armstrong had allegedly called Simeoni an "absolute liar" in an interview with the Le Monde newspaper and on Italian TV in 2003, a matter for which Simeoni is seeking €100,000 (£71,000) in damages which he claims he will give to charity.
Armstrong’s most visible support for his former trainer came in the 2004 Tour de France when he chased after Simeoni in the break to Lons le Saunier, on Stage 18. In an “unprecedented move” by the yellow jersey, Armstrong personally brought him back to the peloton. (The US Postal Service Cycling Team site has a series of Graham Watson photos on that encounter here.)
However, the Italian authorities asked the Italian National Drug Squad (NAS) to investigate the incident in order to establish whether Armstrong's actions were in fact intimidating a witness of the then-ongoing trial. Simeoni, Kazakh rider Dimitry Fofonov, Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Marc Lotz, who were all part of the breakaway, and Paolo Bettini, have already been interviewed by the authorities to give their version of the events.
At the same time the Italian Cycling Federation issued a statement in defence of Simeoni, condemning Armstrong’s actions.
The question remains whether Armstrong will be questioned about his actions by the Italian authorities should he return to Italy. The USA newspaper The Houston Chronicle reports that Armstrong remains upbeat about the situation when they reported an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose at the Texas Children's Hospital gala a month ago in Houston:
...he will remain in Texas through the end of February, then join up with his Discovery Channel teammates for the eight-day Paris-Nice race March 6-13.
After Paris-Nice, he might participate in the one-day dash from Milan to San Remo on March 19, although he insists his disinclination has nothing to do with the murky legal inquiry that was launched by the Italian authorities regarding his alleged "intimidation" of Filippo Simeoni late in the 2004 Tour.
Simeoni served as a prosecution's witness in the drug trial of Italian sports physician Dr. Michele Ferrari, with whom Armstrong has had a professional relationship. Armstrong accused Simeoni of lying about Ferrari and Simeoni has sued Armstrong for libel. At any rate, when Simeoni broke from the pack one afternoon, Armstrong reeled him in, not a typical tactic by someone protecting the yellow jersey.
"How can you commit a crime by riding your bicycle?" Armstrong said. "It's crazy. If they want to ask me some questions, I'll be happy to answer them. But the truth is (Milan-San Remo) isn't my kind of race. Fifty guys in a flat 70-mile sprint. That's not my thing."
Meanwhile, Simeoni will not ride in the ProTour this year, since he will ride for the professional team Naturino-Sapore di Mare. Now vindicated, he is still clearly bitter about the events in general, and Armstrong and Cipollini (who had tried to stop him racing in the 2004 Tour) in particular.
"During the last six years, Armstrong has always supported Ferrari and maintained his innocence, people will draw their own conclusions from that."
"Nothing has hurt me more than the eagerness of champions like Lance Armstrong or Mario Cipollini who would have stopped me from cycling. If I am still here, it is because I love the sport."
Rebel with a Cause?
Pippo Simeoni first drew caught the headlines when, as he was about to win stage 18 of the Vuelta Espana 2001 he decided to offer his own tribute to the victims of 9/11 by walking across the line with his bike held aloft. But as well as wanting to show his respects to the attacks' victims, the Italian also had personal demons to exorcise.
He had become known for his revelations to a judge in 1998 - which were then published in a European edition of GQ magazine - admitting taking dope as an amateur and then following a doping programme under the guidance of Dr. Michele Ferrari. Simeoni broke the relationship off when he felt he wasn't getting the results or the attention from Ferrari that he was expecting. These allegations led to him being questioned by the Italian police investigating Ferrari, and ultimately would lead to the sad sight of a US Postal rider spitting at him on the last stage of the Tour de France 2004. However, back in September 2001, and knowing that he would soon face suspension for admitting to dopage, he gave a quite astonishing post-stage interview in his strong Latian accent; since although born in Desio (next to Milan, in the famous Brianza area which gave birth to many pros - Frigo, Tonetti Saronni, Bugno etc.) on August, 18, 1971, he had moved to Sezze, in the Latium region, where he currently lives.
"I decided to do this some time ago," he said of his celebration. "It was a way of showing my love and hate for the sport. I hate it because of the huge fatigue it produces in me, and love it because of all that cycling has given me. It was also a way of relieving myself of all the tension accumulated over the past few months as a result of sporting and non-sporting pressures."
This was not the usual cliché-ridden post-win interview, and there was more to come: "I'm a thinker and I wanted to make people think again about the sport. I wanted to say that sport is an ideal activity for helping young people mature in life… The gesture of raising my bike above my head was also meant as a protest against the terrorists attacks in New York. Sport has to make peace gestures like this. We've had enough of war. Cyclists shouldn't have to feel distant from events that happen away from racing. I know a lot of cyclists who feel the same way that I do, but they don't say anything because the opportunity doesn't present itself. The important thing is that people understand that sport is a healthy thing to do."
However on the 15th of October 2001, Simeoni did pay the price for his "dopage" and the Cantina Tollo-Acqua & Sapone rider was suspended by CONI for 6 months. He was accused of violating the Italian anti-doping laws in the case "Ferrara."
After 18 months of protracted court procedure, Michele Ferrari, one of cycling's most controversial trainers, took the stand on April 17th 2003 to present his case against charges that he supplied professional cyclists with banned drugs. Ferrari's defence was two pronged; he presented a huge amount of technical information and also argued that his accusers were in league against him.
The most dramatic moment in the five-hour hearing in Bologna's criminal court came when Ferrari was asked by the judge Maurizio Passerini - why his former client Filippo Simeoni had stated that he offered him the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) and Andriol, a testosterone preparation. "Simeoni was caught red-handed and lied to get a lighter ban. Simeoni is a damned liar, he even lied to me," said Ferrari and he added that Simeoni and two other cyclists were “in a league" against him. Ferrari also claimed that Simeoni had conspired with Italy's principal anti-drug campaigner Sandro Donati, although Donati denied ever having spoken to Simeoni. The prosecution's case is the allegation that the blood-thickness levels of Ferrari's clients varied from winter to summer, coinciding with major races, indicating the possible use of EPO.
Ferrari explained that some of his best clients, such as the 1994 World Cup winner Gianluca Bortolami and the double Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Gotti had unhealthily high blood iron levels, and he had advised them to donate blood in the winter to reduce the iron content at a time when it would not affect their performance.
Ferrari went on to explain the banned drugs he had been linked with. Ferrari said that the youth hormone DHEA was for his father’s rheumatism. The iron supplements were for his mother in law and that Androstene, a testosterone booster, was connected to his studies on impotence.
Although after the case Lance Armstrong said that if Ferrari were found guilty he would cease working with him, both on Italian TV and in the French Newspaper Le Monde in the weeks before the Tour de France 2003 he strongly backed his coach.
In response to this, Filippo Simeoni, lodged a charge of defamation against Lance Armstrong with courts in Paris and Italy. He alleges the American called him an "absolute liar" in an interview with the Le Monde newspaper after Simeoni gave evidence in the doping trial of the sports doctor Michele Ferrari. "We have to respond in court," he said. He is seeking €100,000 (£71,000) in damages.
"It's not a question of money. If I'm awarded money, I'll give it to charity," said Simeoni .
Simeoni meanwhile said he is glad to have turned his back on doping. "By speaking out, it's cleared my conscience, but don't believe that it's easy to admit to a judge, to spit it out to your friends and your parents that you've taken certain substances."
"I was ashamed, my parents were ashamed and I was on the brink of depression. I was scared of everyone, what they would say. But the thing that did me the most damage was the attitude of Armstrong," added Simeoni, referring to Armstrong's appearance on Italian television. Simeoni said he admires Armstrong, and would never accuse him of anything personally, but wants "him to publicly recognise his mistake."
Meanwhile cycling continued as normal .On the 18th of June 2003 Gianluca Bortolami, one of riders named in the trial earlier that year, was found positive for Kenacort (from the corticoide family) after the 2nd stage of the Driedaagse De Panne in April. His defence was a familiar one - he did not know how this product came into his urine. Another rider named in the trial, Ivan Gotti, a two-time Giro d'Italia winner who had retired from the sport, agreed to a five-month suspended jail term at a preliminary hearing. The case resulted from a police raid at the 2001 Giro, leading to the seizure of medicine and banned substances from the hotel rooms of several cyclists.
The Simeoni/Armstrong feud would have remained lost in the backwaters of the slow moving Italian legal system until finally the case came to court but for the extraordinary scenes which occurred in the closing stages of the Tour de France 2004. Armstrong, having dispatched his main rivals slightly earlier than expected, decided to flex his muscles against Simeoni who was trying to join the race winning break on stage 18.
The move shocked even staunch Armstrong supporters like Phil Ligget, who described the move as “sinister,” while the cycling historian, reporter and rider William Fotheringham accurately remarked that the move was “unprecedented for the maillot jaune to behave this way.”
Things only got worse on the final day. With a sense of passion for cycling that some of Armstrong’s more famous rivals would do well to note, Simeoni attacked, and attacked and attacked.
The organisers of the Tour de France ASO kept to their eternal policy of “no man is bigger than the Tour” and on the final stage gave Armstrong his sixth (and record) yellow jersey, and the combativity award to Simeoni. Whether Simeoni is a liar who lied to get a reduced ban or a rider who saw the error of his ways and has tried to come clean and speak out about dopage will be decided by the Italian legal system in due course. However, the sight of the maillot jaune and his team acting “like playground bullies” has only further tarnished cycling's battered image.
Lance Armstrong, a rider who rightly called spitting fans on the Alpe d’Huez “disgusting,” should remember that he and his team have an example to set. Sadly both he and his team fell far short of those expectations on the final days of the Tour.