Simeoni, who was famously chased down, or latterly “followed” by Lance Armstrong on stage 18 of the Tour De France 2004, is a pandoras box.
To some he is a man who dared speak out against “omerta” ( the code of silence, in this sense meaning doping in the peloton) and was pilloried for his bravery, to others he is a fly by night who was caught red handed with EPO , gave evidence against Ferrari and “lied to get a lighter ban”
Sand falls through the egg timer of life and issues eventually reach the bottom of the glass.
Ferrari was found guilty, the judge praising the accuracy of Simeoni’s evidence. Simeoni and Armstrong settled their legal battle out of court. Ferrari won his appeal through “statute limitations”; his lawyer is still “waiting the full text of the court's decision that will shed light on why they overturned the original decision, because we have requested that the previous decision is removed from Doctor Ferrari's record”. He may wait a long time.
Simeoni is now 35 years old and is still a professional cyclist riding for the small Naturino - Sapore di Mare Team.
Earlier this season, in the Italian Stage race , Tirreno-Adriatico, Simeoni was involved in a crash 17 kilometres into Stage 4 along with Bodrogi, Christensen and De Groot . Simeoni took the brunt of the fall and was taken to the hospital in Lanciano . He had damaged 4 vertebrae .Four months later he had recovered enough to resume his cycle racing in the Brixia Tour.
Such is the life of the racing cyclist.
The last three major Tours have been all clouded by dopage. Roberto Heras, disqualified from the Tour of Spain, Ivan Basso, winner of the Tour of Italy, refused entry into the Tour de France because of reports from Spain that allegedly linked him with Doctor Fuentes, and the Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis testing positive on two occasions.
So what does Filippo Simeoni make of these events?
Cristiano Gatti of the Italian daily paper Il Giornale interviewed Simeoni on the 30th July 2006 , here is an extract from that interview-
Has anything changed in the last ten years?
"yes things have changed and maybe improved very slightly. I am confident now that there are riders in the peloton now who don’t use dopage. In the 90’s no, it was madness ..”.
In what sense?
"Everyone used EPO in the 90’s .There were no controls or limits.
So what is it like now?
"Well it is like a war, but it is very much harder and more expensive for the riders to follow now. It has created its own problems, it is a lot more difficult to follow the dopage route. Technology means that we are moving to an elite doping programme. We are in the era of the doping élite, Very expensive. Few can afford it.
What do you think about Operation Puertos in Spain?
Well the cyclists paid from 30 thousand to 60 thousand euros to Dr Fuentes. A gregario could not imagine that sum of money. It pays for a specialist Doctor and the latest developments, especially in hormone and blood technology, This investment means they know how much to take and how to avoid the controls. All very sophisticated and expensive. It is doping for the rich. ..”.
What was it like in the 1990’s?
"throughout the 1990’s we all took the same thing, EPO. The effect was paradoxical:
In reality it made little difference. It all came back to who was the strongest. Pantani won because he was a phenomenon. Whatever he gained through dopage so did his rivals. Now there is a new twist, a small rider can suddenly become big! By using the best Doctor, he can get incredible results. I think about Gutierrez, second in the Giro. I know him quite well, we were in the same team for a while. At no time would I ever have said he was a good climber. Yet in the last Giro he was on the wheel of Basso. A miracle!".
So you cannot win without doping?
No, if you have two riders of equal ability the one who does not use dope will not be able to beat the rider that uses.
So you cannot believe the results of races anymore ?
"No, until we are certain that there is a level playing field for every one. Look at the last three major Stage races. Vuelta, Giro, Tour: in all three the winners ended up in trouble caused by Dopage. The effects are devastating: it also convinces the young riders that they will not get results without resorting to doping.
And what about the Team’s role?
There are some very professional and correct teams. Look at Liquigas: I know that they are very well disciplined. But they are not getting any results. On the other hand we know that about sixty riders are “working” with Fuentes- how can Liquigas hope to win?
But can bicycle racing exist without doping?
"Certainly. Many people say that if there are 5 major mountain climbs in the same stage then it’s necessary to take substances. But that’s not true. The race might be a little slower, more riders would get cooked, and the time gaps would increase. But would that make it a less beautiful race?"
In the meanwhile, what would you do immediately to help the situation
"I am a hundred percent with Gianni Bugno, when he spoke yesterday in the Giornale. The team-managers and team medical staff must take their share of the responsibility. It’s not right that when a rider is in trouble they wash their hands of him. It is their responsibility too. Look at the CSC Team of Ivan Basso. Before the Tour they loose Basso and then they almost win it with Sastre. Did it make much difference to them? It is essential to change. Ullrich is involved? In that case his team should have been forced to stop until they have given a full explanation. Only then would you see the managers begin to really keep a close eye on their riders, and not be able to say they know nothing. They are the first to encourage doping”
In what sense do Team managers encourage doping?
"In the sense that they claim to fight it, but they want their riders to get good results: if a rider doesn’t get results he will not stay a rider long.
They rarely try to introduce an athlete into the profession in a serious manner. The only thing that matters is victory. What is clear to everyone is, even a rider who just wants to keep his place in a team is at risk (of resorting to dopage.)
Will this dishonesty ever go away?
Unfortunately no. However it is one thing to have minimal controls and slight penalties if you get caught, and another to know they will hunt you down and finish your career.
rebel with a cause
Simeoni versus Armstrong
Sources – Il Giornale, Sportwereld, Daily Peloton, Cyclingnews.