By Greg Johnson
Saunier-Duval-Prodir's Gilberto Simoni is feeling stronger this year than when he took third place at last year's Giro d'Italia, according to team manager Pietro Algeri. The Italian has spent the opening months of 2007 preparing for his home event, only making outings at a handful of road and mountain bike events, including the Tour de Georgia where he finished 19th overall.
"Of course, our prime goal is to see Simoni as the Giro winner," declared Algeri. "I'm sure he can do it because he's become vastly experienced. Moreover, he told me that his physical condition is better now than in 2006."
The 35 year-old's chances of taking his third victory at the Grand Tour are undoubtedly boosted given the absence of the pair that finished ahead of him in last year's edition: Ivan Basso and José E. Gutierrez Cataluna. Italy's Basso and Spain's Gutierrez were both implicated in Operación Puerto doping scandal last year, and subsequently will not contest this year's Giro d'Italia.
"The whole team will work for him, including Riccò, who can learn a lot from Gibo," added Algeri. "This doesn't mean we won't fight for stage wins: Riccò has a good chance to take mountaintop finish stages, and Piepoli or Mayo can win stages with difficult climbs. Then, men like Cañada or Mori in the mountains and 'Litu' Gómez or Bertogliati on flat terrain will certainly be on the front."
At the time of publishing Saunier Duval-Prodir was one of the few squads which haven't made changes to its roster for the May 12-June 3 event, since the publishing of the start list earlier this week.
Saunier-Duval roster for the Giro d'Italia: Gilberto Simoni, Riccardo Riccò, Iban Mayo, Leonardo Piepoli, Manuele Mori, David Cañada, Ángel "Litu" Gómez, Raivis Belohvosciks and Rubens Bertogliati.