Gilberto Simoni has signed a short-term contract with the Lampre-Farnese Vini team to ride the Giro del Trentino on his home roads next week and then end his long career at the Giro d'Italia in May.
Simoni will be 39 in August and has mixed road racing with marathon mountain biking racing in recent years. He will finally retire this summer but wants to ride the Giro one last time and end his professional career with Lampre, with whom he raced when he won his first Giro d'Italia in 2001.
"Mario and Emanuele Galbusera (the owners of the Lampre company) made it happen. They knew that I wanted to end my career in their jersey and they wanted it too. There was a kind of two-way promise between us," Simoni told Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday.
Simoni hopes to win one last mountain stage in the Dolomites near his home in Palù di Giovo, above Trento.
In 2002 he was forced to quit the Giro after failing an anti-doping test for cocaine at the Giro del Trentino He claimed the cocaine was present in some South American homeopathic lozenges his aunt had given him to combat a sore throat. The police and Italian Cycling Federation believed him and he avoided a suspension. Simoni returned to win a second Giro d'Italia in 2003.
"I'm doing it to ride the Giro for one last time. I consider the Giro 'my' race," he said. "I've kept training because I was convinced I can ride it. I might suffer early on but the best bit is at the end. I've already undergone two surprise anti-doping tests. I'm ready."
Rumours that Simoni was going to send his career with Lampre-Farnese Vini have been circulating for several months and he has made himself available for out of competition doping tests.
He reportedly had an offer from Michael Ball's Rock Racing team before the US team's registration problems. Then the Lampre deal was delayed due to Lampre's ProTour registration and more recently the Mantova doping investigation. He finally signed a contract on Thursday and immediately took the contract to the UCI accountants so that he can quickly get a licence and start the Giro del Trentino on home roads next Tuesday.
"The team had the ProTour licence problem, then the Mantova investigation story came out. The Galbuseras aren't worried because they know how they've always behaved in the right way. But they are a bit embarrassed. It's not nice," Simoni said.
"We took the contract straight to Switzerland to get it registered. There wasn't an hour to lose if I wanted to ride the Giro del Trentino."
Simoni will face his old Giro d'Italia enemy Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) at the Giro del Trentino and will have to team up with former teammate Damiano Cunego if he rides the Giro d'Italia. The two fell out while riding for the Saeco team in 2004. Simoni was team leader but Cunego snatched the pink jersey and went on to win the Giro.