An interview with Gilberto Simoni, March 19, 2008
Gilberto Simoni is into his fifteenth season as a professional this year, and, at the side of Team Manager Giovanni Savio, he has two clear goals: the Giro d'Italia and the Mountain Bike Worlds. The 36 year-old Italian from Trento sat down with Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews to talk about the upcoming season with his new Diquigiovanni team.
"This team has a different enthusiasm, a team that wants to grow. I believe it has a young enthusiasm," said Simoni after dinner, on the eve of Monte Paschi Eroica. We had met at the team's hotel in Maciallina, just outside of Siena to talk about what his plans were for the future.
When he signed with Gianni Savio's team, Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli – for years known as Selle Italia – many had thought 'Il Trentino' was taking a step down and out of the sport. Since riding his first season as a professional in 1994 with Jolly-Cage, he has achieved some monumental wins and gained a following of fans for his bluntness. Two overall victories (2001 and 2003) and eight stage wins in the Giro d'Italia, including last years stomping up the Monte Zoncolan, have gained him the respect from his peers, and spats with riders like Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego have given him a likable edginess.
After spending many years at the side of Claudio Corti (Saeco and then Lampre), he signed with his old directeur sportif, Pietro Algeri, at the end of 2005. It was with Algeri that he won his first Giro title and it was also with him that he repeated on the Monte Zoncolan last year. However, his new-found love for mountain biking and the desire to have a team that better suited those needs and his training, led him to Savio.
"I came here because of certain guarantees and there are three team-mates that live in my zone [Denis and Alessandro Bertolini and Leonardo Moser - ed.], who I train with. It is a new stimulus when training with them," he noted. He was mostly referring to the son of cycling great Francesco Moser, Leonardo, who is entering his fourth professional season.
"He has been around longer than I have," he joked of his new boss, the talkative and opinionated Savio. "I think that he has stayed around because he is doing and creating good things, and this gives me trust. Also, I know [DS] Marco Bellini, he was my old team-mate for one season at Cantina Tollo in 1998. There are a lot of things in this team that I liked right away.
"We grew this project together. We worked together for my ideas, like a subset mountain team. It was something I wanted and something that we worked together to create. There is Johnny Cattaneo, who last year raced as a mountain biker and this year is in our team. We have Ruslan Ivanov, who won the Rampi Tour. It was all these things put together that made me belive this would be a bella squadra."
"At Saunier I had two wonderful years, but I can't tie myself to the personnel, after all," he continued when asked if switching teams is hard due to the friendships that form. "The friends that you make will always remain in contact even if you change teams. It is like that in life, where friends remain."
The mountain bike season was already going strong when Cyclingnews spoke with Simoni on that rainy evening at Hotel La Loggia. He would have liked to have started his mountain bike season at the Sunshine Cup in Cyprus, but put his ambitions on hold to focus solely on the Giro d'Italia in May.
"I wish I was racing at Cyprus, and tomorrow there is a race at Montichiari [Brescia, Italy]. My idea was to start early, however, the plan has changed and now I am racing Eroica and then on to Tirreno[-Adriatico]. Now, it will all come after the Giro." (The flu forced him to skip the Tirreno-Adriatico - ed.)
After the 23.5-kilometre time trial into Milano on June 1, Simoni will start his push for the Mountain Bike World Championships, held near his home in hometown of Palù di Giovo. His goal is gold in the marathon event and after that he will consider going to China for the Olympics, August 23.
"The Olympics are a dream, but above all I am thinking of the Marathon Worlds, July 6 in Villabassa. The Olympics come after the Worlds; that is my way of thinking," he reckoned.
He noted that the change in disciplines – from marathon to cross country – may be difficult for him. "The marathon is a new discipline for mountain biking, and cross country is a whole different discipline. They say that it is the queen of the mountain biking disciplines, whereas marathon is realistically young. Marathon that suits my characteristics perfectly, cross-country is relatively explosive, but to do any of the events you have to have a good base."
Savio and Simoni have worked with Olympia to supply the mountain bike frames as Guerciotti – the supplier for the team's road bikes – does not produce them. "It was an arrangement that we worked out when I signed with the team," he noted of the Padova-based frame supplier.
2008 Giro d'Italia
"It has been a while since I have viewed the parcours. It is a very hard Giro," he said looking at the 2008 Giro d'Italia booklet handed out during the presentation in December.
"I think that my stage is here, Alpe di Pampeago," he pointed to stage 14, the 195-kilometre stage that ends with the 7.65-kilometre romp up Pampeago, averaging 9.8% over its 753-metre rise. "I won there in the past [stage 14, 2003], and then also finished second there behind behind Pantani [stage 19, 1999 - ed.]. I have some good memories, even if there is a lot of strain associated with that climb. To be able to come out and win it would truly be a beautiful thing."
Simoni – even with his years of experience – was amazed at yet another difficult parcours that the organisers put together. The 2008 Giro features a return to Plan de Corones, where in 2006 snow forced the stage to be shortened. "I think that having a time trial there is a good solution. A road like this, with the gravel, would be hard to manage in a normal stage.
"Passo di San Bernardino, wow! Mortirolo! Aprica, Tirano... damn! Then there are a lot of people that don't think of the start, but it is there that some differences can be made, too. This Giro opens the door to a lot of riders, but then in the third week it will be very hard." He added wisely, "The first week will not make or break the classification, but you can't let yourself slide out of contention."
Simoni explained that he is realistic heading into this Giro. "I am really thinking of the Pampeago stage, that would really make me happy," he continued. "I cannot be bitter if I don't win the Giro, but what I did last year is possible again. Zoncolan, the podium, which I let go last year. I want to be happy at the Giro and I don't want to take any problems home."
"I don't want to enter into these polemics [regarding Giro team selection], I just want to race," he continued, when the conversation shifted to his old sparing partner, Stefano Garzelli, who has to sit out of the Giro due to Acqua & Sapone's non-invite. "It is a pity. I don't know. The organisers need to decide what they want for the future of this sport. Garzelli is a good rider. For a while I was worried because we did not have a guarantee. I hate to see those riders that made history in the sport are not invited."
Even with 15 years of racing, Simoni could not pinpoint what would make the sport run smoother. "We could speak for a lifetime. However, I really don't think about it," he noted of the Grand Tour and International Cycling Union (UCI) fallout. "It is not only the words that change the sport, we need some action.
"It seems like I have seen everything in my years, which I have, but I really don't know who to believe in the end.
"It seems like no one wants problems in the media, but there is a little morsel and then the people dig more and more for these news," he continued, referring to the many doping investigations blighting cycling. "There are other sports that don't give a damn about the problems. It always seems like everyone wants to talk about the problems [in cycling]. It seems like in the Giro people want to raise a flag and say 'look, we have problems and we are talking about it.'
"The people that find the problems seem to be the people that want to make money from solving the problems. 'Give me the management of this problem, give me money to solve it,' is how it seems to go. Sometimes it is unbelievable."
Simoni spoke his opinion on the issues, but was obviously mostly content to speak of racing, and the time afterwards. "Right now I am thinking of just the Giro, but I have opportunities to do almost anything after racing," he said regarding retirement from professional cycling. "Right now, I can be a protagonist at the Giro and go strong at the Mountain Bike Worlds.
"Then, I look forward to being with my children. My girl, Sofia, turned five the other day, then there is my boy, Enrico, he will be two years old in June. It is hard to have free time, but what time I do have they take it all," he said with warm smile.
"It is nice when I am at home. Yesterday, Enrico had been asking all day to ride on the tractor. I took him on the tractor and he really enjoyed that. I am away a lot, in January and February I had only a total of 15 days at home; however, when I am at home it is beautiful. The children really want me."
He hopes to give Sofia a special gift this May when she is watching the Giro on television. "Now they are taking consideration what I am doing. They are asking which races I am going to, and they want to see the races on television. This year, my daughter will see the Giro on TV and understand what I am doing. When I won the Giro, in 2003, she was really small and could not understand what I had done."
Simoni stood up and we took a caffè at the bar with his new team-mates. The bonds between them was evident and one that Simoni is nurturing as he pushes towards May 10 in Palermo, the start of the 91st Giro d'Italia.