By Jean-François Quénet in Sutrio
Gilberto Simoni hadn't won a stage in the Tour of Italy for three years, and it's been four years since he imposed himself on the Zoncolan - climbed the other way round, where he's unbeaten because the Giro has been there only twice. The hill was actually recommended to the organization of the race by soccer coach Francesco Guidolin, now with Palermo. Guidolin, as a cycling fan, discovered it while he trained.
"It was a very unusual atmosphere on this narrow road without the team cars behind us," said a talkative Simoni after stage 17. "It's been an exciting day of intense racing."
Twice the double winner of the race said this year's edition is "a Giro of great humanity." He enjoyed not only seeing Marco Pinotti wearing the pink jersey earlier in the race, but also what happened all the way through. "Last year after less than a week, I said we had nothing to expect," he recalled. Without speaking the name of Ivan Basso, whom he criticized strongly twelve months ago, Simoni said, "One person dominated the event. This year, it's a fabulous sporting battle. Di Luca is the strongest, but he has had to suffer for coming where he is now. He has overestimated himself sometimes. He has given a few pink jerseys to his teammates and a few stages away here and there. I hope he's going to win now."
Simoni has put aside his personal ambitions for the General Classification. "Stage 1, the team time trial, already cut my legs," he recalled. "Then I've had to fight day after day. As a team, Saunier Duval has been great. We have won a mountain stage each, Piepoli, Riccò, and I. The stage that could have changed the overall was the one of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I sent Piepoli and Riccò away because Liquigas didn't want to pace, then I had no more chance to make the maglia rosa.
"I've concluded it was useless to target the final top three. I've done that in the past," said Simoni. "I prefer the stage win. I wanted the Tre Cime but I'm happy with this one. The kisses of the misses and the flowers for my wife, that's better than just another third place in Milan."