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Simoni prepared for last Grand Tour

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

Gilberto Simoni has won two Giri d'Italia and placed third, second, third and fourth in the last four editions of the race. He's now 36 years of age but was looking far younger than that at the teams presentation on Thursday evening in Palermo's Piazza Castelnuovo. More importantly, he and Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli manager Gianni Savio were talking up his chances for what is likely to be his final Grand Tour.

"I have prepared well for the Giro," he said. "I want to be protagonist like last year, and so hope to be going well this time."

"Gilberto's condition is good," stated Savio, "as is that of the other riders. We will try to win the race. Our objective is the maglia rosa, and I think that it is possible."

The team missed out on an invite in 2007, but Simoni's signing all but guaranteed their participation this season. "I am very happy to be back in the Giro," said Savio. "We were protagonists in 2005 with Jose Rujano and Ivan Parra.

"Last year we were not invited but in the years before that, I think we always honoured the race. So we have now a very competitive team with one leader, Gilberto Simoni. It is sure that we cannot have the same strategy as in the past; then, we had young riders and we attacked with them. Now, there are eight riders all riding for Gilberto Simoni."

He is happy with their line-up. "We have Alessandro Bertolini, the UCI Europe Tour champion of last year. We have the Colombian Jose Serpa and the Venezuelan José Ochoa. Also, we have the German sprinter Danilo Hondo, plus the Italians Raffaele Illiano, Daniele Nardello and Gabriele Missaglia. So it is a compact team, and one dedicated to Gilberto Simoni."

Following the race, Simoni will turn his attention to mountain bike competition. He knows that this is likely to be his final chance to take a third Giro; last year's Monte Zoncolan victor is very much aiming to go out on a high.