Italian veteran enjoys his swansong
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Farnese Vini) will be given a special lifetime achievement award on the final Giro d'Italia podium on Sunday but had hoped for one last swansong in the mountains on Saturday.
The 38-year-old veteran Italian climber had struggled through the Giro, yet he found his form just in time for the last stage over the Gavia to Passo Tonale. He got in the right break and his chances looked good, but then the emotions of his final day of glory in the mountains got the better of him.
He lost the sprint for the Cima Coppi prize at the summit of the Gavia to Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and was eventually caught by the peloton, while Tschopp went on to win the stage.
Simoni went on to finish 32nd, 6:50 behind Tschopp. It was not the way he hoped to bow out, but his long experience in the saddle has made him philosophical about life and cycling.
"That hurt," he said as the media at the finish line mobbed him for one last time.
"It's never easy going in the long break of the day. I got in the right break twice but it was hard all day and there was hardly time to eat. I made some mistakes that made it even harder. On the Gavia I was focused on winning the Cima Coppi prize, I thought it would be a nice way of bowing out but I gave it everything and still didn't win.
"Perhaps if I'd played more of a bluffing game, I might have had something left for the finish but never mind. That's bike racing."
Time to bow out
Simoni will pin on a race number for the last time for Sunday's time trial around Verona. He may ride some post-Giro criteriums though he is happy to end his career now.
"I'm just glad the Giro is over. I've had enough now," he said.
"I've known it was time to retire for awhile. It's been on my mind for the last two years. I knew this Giro was my last race. I've been a professional for 17 years, and it really is time to quit.
"I honestly thought I'd go better than I did in this Giro. I knew I couldn't win it like in 2003 or 2007, but I didn't expect to suffer so much and for so long during the three weeks.
I"t's been a strange goodbye. I've ridden the Giro almost as an outsider, without the pressure to win and do well. It's hurt but I've been able to enjoy it. Before the finish today, the whole thing flashed before my eyes."
Still no forgiveness for Basso
Simoni is known for his pride. Four years ago he fell out with Ivan Basso after he allegedly first offered Simoni the stage victory in exchange for his help and then surged clear to win in Aprica and dedicated the stage to his newly born son.
Simoni had words for Basso then and refuses to forgive him, as he revealed to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"Basso is a phoney nice guy. He behaves like a choir boy, but he isn't. Back then he did even worse things than flick me. His doping threw mud on the whole of Italian cycling."
Simoni tested positive for cocaine but was cleared after he proved the drug was in some South American sweets given to him by his aunt. He still maintains his innocence.
"It was all absurd," he said. "Especially when a lot of other athletes in other sports have real coke problems. It cost me two months of my career and that year's Giro. I got revenge the year after when I won the Giro."
When Simoni enters the Verona Roman arena and crosses the finish line on Sunday, he will begin to think about the rest of his life.
"I don't want to think about my future just yet," he said. "I won't need to rush things anymore. I won't need to race against time. I can take my time and enjoy the rest of my life."
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