On the eve of the 93rd Giro d'Italia, Gilberto Simoni has reflected on the role the race has played in shaping his 16-year professional career. The two-time winner of the Giro will close his career at the race and is hoping to achieve some final glory.
Simoni, who can look back on 13 Giro participations, has developed a special bond to the event. "It was the Giro that brought me to cycling when I was a child," he told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport. "It triggered my dreams. Francesco Moser inspired me."
The Lampre rider comes from a tiny village named Palù di Giovo, in the province of Trentino, also the hometown of 1984 Giro winner, Moser. "It counts 550 souls," he said. "But it's won three Giros and four riders coming from there have worn the maglia rosa: Aldo, Enzo and Francesco Moser, and myself. We have the Giro in our genes."
At 38 years of age, and facing tough competition, Simoni knows that another overall victory in the three-week race may be an impossible feat. Therefore, his objectives remain broad: "I will race a diverse Giro. I have the possibility to watch what happens a step back, I don't have the pressure of a result. The final victory is not the only one. There are so many possibilities. I just want to be at the height of my own story."
Simoni also spoke of his love for the Monte Zoncolan, which will form the climax to stage 15 of this year's race. The Giro has visited the climb twice since 2003, with Simoni the stage winner on both occasions.
A third victory on the Zoncolan would be "absolutely beautiful, but I don't want to dream about the impossible," he said. "I was always fortunate in the Aprica [stage 19], but I got second there three times. I feel I have to take a revenge on the Plan de Corones [stage 16]: I was third there behind [Franco] Pellizotti and [Emanuele] Sella. But the Zoncolan... I love it. My fans are already waiting for me there.
"I love the mountains. It's a challenge against yourself. An 'Alpino' [Italian mountain soldier - ed.] that climbs up the side of a mountain challenges himself more than the mountain challenges him. This is my battle territory. Either I win, or I die."