By Gregor Brown
It has been a while since 2001 and 2003 – years that the Giro d'Italia was conquered by Il Trentino, Gilberto Simoni. Since those seasons with Team Lampre and Saeco the Italian from Palù di Giovo (Trento) has switched teams, first to Saunier Duval and now to Gianni Savio's Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli formation; however, at 36 years of age does he have what it takes to win his home tour in 2008?
Simoni would put his name among Hinault, Bartali and Gimondi if he were to score his third Corsa Rosa victory. "Names that leave an impression, but I truly believe that by winning a third Giro I would not be stealing – I have always deserved what I have achieved," he stated in an interview with Tuttosport at the close of 2007.
After two years in the yellow Saunier Duval colours, which include a stage win on the Monte Zoncolan of the Giro this year, he decided to leave to join the Italian Professional Continental Team Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli. It is a smaller setup but should be suitable for obtaining his 2008 goals.
"I will make my debut with the Trofeo Laigueglia, a classic. Then I have two goals above all: the Giro d'Italia and mountain bike [at the Olympics]. The mountain bike is a recent passion that really has me involved.
"I like the new team of Gianni Savio – I have found the right stimulus, riders from Trento [his home region - ed.] with whom I can train, like Leonardo Moser and the two Bertolinis. And then there is a group that will join me on the mountain bike."
He knows that taking out a third Grand Tour win in the Giro will be difficult; therefore he will have his sights on a stage and then the overall. "My first objective of the Giro is to win on my roads in Pampeago. From there one I will push with all I have. It is a strange Giro, with a lot of transfers and some nervous stages, but it is not selective, the classification will not change much for three-fourths of the Giro."
Last year, he was beaten by an impressive Danilo Di Luca, but this year he figures 'The Killer' will not be up to his usual self. "The combination of Di Luca and [Paolo] Savoldelli at the new Team LPR will be important, but one of the two has to understand that they will lose the Giro. Di Luca has won this last summer, but he was always suffering. It is difficult to repeat these levels, difficult to always go so well. Cunego? He is always the same, not such a factor."
He counts on his old team-mate and the 2007 Giro's maglia bianca as the young guns to beat. "I know [Riccardo] Riccò well," he continued. (Read Riccò aims for Ardennes Classics and Giro.) "We were in the same team – he has character and is growing. He and Andy Schleck represent the future. We will need to see if the Luxembourger will return to Italy. We know little of the foreigners; will they come to the Giro?"
2008 will be Simoni's 15th year as a professional, but he recalls his most brilliant moment as an amateur. "When I dropped [Marco] Pantani on the climbs; it happened a few times during the early 1990s at the Giro del Friuli. I also won the baby Giro d'Italia." As a professional? "My first Giro d'Italia win comes to mind, in 2001. I managed myself with extreme superiority. ... I was not like [Ivan] Basso. But there were times I was able to take sprint wins, and I possessed a crushing superiority."
Ivan Basso dominated the 2006 Giro, which ended with a row between him and Simoni on the penultimate stage that arrived in Aprica. Basso was banned until 24 October for his involvement with Eufemiano Fuentes/Operación Puerto, but will be able to return to racing at the end of the 2008 season.
"I would prefer not to respond to any questions [about Basso] if possible," Simoni commented about Basso receiving a discounted suspension. Instead, Simoni remains focused on his goals of 2008: the Giro and gold.