Zomegnan blasts Simeoni, team exclusion linked to Armstrong?

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Giro d'Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan blasted Filippo Simeoni for resigning from his Italian national jersey. The Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce rider handed over the prized top to the Italian cycling federation (FCI) yesterday in Rome after his team's non-invite to the race.

"It is a media stunt," Zomegnan told Rai Sport. "Chances were given to Simeoni: he was invited to Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was up to 30 minutes behind and did not finish the race, while at Milano-Sanremo he had seven hours to meet Armstrong and clarify the 2004 incident. This is not the way to live together in a civilised manner."

Giro organiser RCS Sport overlooked Ceramica Flaminia when it issued its final team selection last month. Ethical criteria could not have been the reason for the decision, as Ceramica Flaminia is a Pro Continental team with wild card status, and adheres to the International Cycling Union's (UCI) biological passport system.

In French newspaper L'Equipe, Simeoni complained that his team was not invited when Spanish Professional Continental teams ISD and Xacobeo Galicia were. "He [Angelo Zomegnan - ed.] will have to explain why the national values are not respected, why the selection criteria remains unclear and privilege the commercial rule over the sporting aspects, especially in a time when the Tour and the Vuelta do not cease to preserve the interests of their national sponsors," the Italian rider fumed.

Moreover, Simeoni suspected that the decision could be linked to Lance Armstrong's participation in the race, something Zomegnan indirectly confirmed by his response. "In Italy, some newspapers consider him [Armstrong] to be a sort of messiah; he has a lot of power. So, had he wanted to deliver a message of equity and reconciliation, he could have acted to have us on the race. One word from him [to the organiser - ed.] would have been enough," Simeoni added.

Simeoni has been out-spoken in cycling since he claimed Doctor Michele Ferrari prescribed Lance Armstrong Erythropoietin (EPO) in the late nineties. Following a legal battle, Armstrong hindered Simeoni from entering an escape group in the 2004 Tour de France.

Simeoni was back in the headlines again last summer when he took a surprise win in the Italian national championships in Bergamo. The tricolore jersey gave him a new of lease life and added motivation to race the centennial Giro d'Italia, May 9 to 31.

Ten months later, he returned the jersey to the federation's general secretary Maria Cristina Gabriotti (president Renato Di Rocco was out of the office). The resignation is the first such occurrence in the 100-year history of the national jersey. (GB/HK)

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