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Preparing for the challenge

An interview with Gilberto Simoni

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Photo: © Sirotti

Gilberto Simoni

Born: August 25, 1971 at Palu' di Giovo, Italy
Nationality: Italian
Residence: Palu' di Giovo
Marital status: Married to Arianna
Professional since: 1994

Teams

1994 Jolly Componibili
1995-1996 Aki
1997 MG-Technogym
1998 Cantina Tollo
1999 Ballan
2000-2001 Lampre-Daikin
2002 Saeco-Longoni Sport

Selected palmares

2001

1st Giro d'Italia + stage win
1st stage Vuelta a Espana
1st stage Tour de Romandie
1st Japan Cup
2nd Tour de Suisse

2000

3rd Giro d'Italia + stage win
1st stage Vuelta a Espana
Giro dell'Emilia
1st stage Criterium Citta di Broni
2nd Settimana Lombarda
2nd Italian Road Championship

1999

3rd Giro d'Italia
3rd Tour de Suisse + stage win
2nd Giro del Trentino

1997

1st stage Giro del Trentino

 

By Tim Maloney, European editor

 
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Palu' di Giovo
Photo: © TM/CN

Up through the mist from Trento, along mountain roads lined with vineyards and red porphyry rock outcrops, past Bavarian style village churches with distinctive onion shape domes, Cyclingnews went to Palu' di Giovo for a one-on-one, in-depth interview with Gilberto Simoni.

I Trentini are know as a stubborn, hard headed folk. A tough, taciturn mountain people who give no quarter. With his solid Giro d'Italia win this year, an 'almost' ride in the Lisbon World's and a season closing win in the Japan Cup, the 30 year old Simoni has emerged as a new force in Italian cycling. With his lifetime of training on the relentless mountain roads of Trentino and a determination fuelled by recent successes, Simoni appears to be the real deal. The 2001 Giro d'Italia champion welcomed Cyclingnews into his home for the following interview in late January.

CN: Well, there have been a lot of changes in your life in the last year between your Giro win, changing teams and getting married... how is married life so far with Arianna?

GS: Between our honeymoon, team camps and everything, it seems like we've hardly been together. Nonetheless, it's more interesting to be married.

CN: Do you feel more settled now?

GS: Not really; there's still a bit of confusion in our lives since the house isn't finished yet, But we're getting there.

CN: You also changed teams. It was kind of a surprise after your time at Lampre. How did that come about?

GS: I always liked Saeco; there was some hesitation at the very beginning of our talks... to be in the same team as Cipollini would have been great. But on the other hand, to balance my objectives with his (had Cipo remained with Saeco), there might have been some antagonism between us. In the sense that Cipo has certain characteristics as a rider and I have others. He'd use one type of team and I'd use another type. So it would have been hard (with Cipo) if I wanted to win the Giro or have my plans for the Tour de France with half a team.

But I would have to say if we were in the same team he would have helped me; Mario is so professional. I consider him one of the great riders in cycling today. So I was at the end of my contract (with Lampre) and Saeco was the team that was the most attractive.

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Saeco training buddies
Photo: © Marco Massetti
 

CN: Did you already know Claudio Corti (Saeco Team Manager)?

GS: Sure, I've know him a long time. He was teammates with (Francesco) Moser (on Supermercato Brianzoli) and he knows my area Trento... I'd say that on Saeco there are all the elements I need to be a top professional rider today.

CN: What about your new teammate Danilo Di Luca?

GS: Di Luca... Di Luca (slightly exasperated)... what I would want, and I think that Di Luca also wants, since we both have multi-year contracts, is that the team becomes more important; where it deserves to be. That's why I think that the best thing for both of us is that we get along.

Certainly, Di Luca is young and ambitious; a clever and strong rider. I hope that we can continue to grow together as riders at Saeco and in a few years, if we're still together people can say that Di Luca is the new hope and Simoni will be there to help him win the Giro. I know that Di Luca is really determined for the classics this year... I still have to get to know him better.

CN: Gilberto, like you, Di Luca has also changed his team to come to Saeco.

GS: Certainly; last year, he was the leader; number one, and this year he'll have to adapt to the team game more... it might be a little more difficult for him.

 
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The new steed
Photo: © TM/CN

CN: You have also changed your bike from last year. How do you like your new Cannondale?

GS: Due to my experiences in other teams, I'm used to a certain type of bike; the Cannondale is exceptionally good. What I really like about having Cannondale as our team sponsor is their desire to be involved with the sport and our team.

That also helps me to get the kind of results I want; for example, we went into the wind tunnel to make a certain kind of bike that should be just what I need. For me, the commitment of Cannondale is really important. To find a company that has the passion like them is great. Plus Cannondale has a lot of new ideas that I like.

I'm always really careful about my bike; I like to make sure of everything. I'd have to say that I always had a good relationship with (previous bike sponsor) Maurizio Fondriest. He is a person who always gave me good advice and even though I've gone down another path, I still regard Fondriest as an smart, serious person. Cannondale is a different thing; more worldly and experienced.

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During the Giro TT
Photo: © Sirotti
 

CN: Is this the first time you've done wind tunnel testing?

GS: Yes; I always tried to have a good position and looked at other riders' positions. And the experience of Moser was really important (Francesco Moser is from the same village as Gilberto Simoni, who is married to Moser's niece) since he really was first with the aerodynamic position.

From there, everyone copied Moser's position. I'm convinced that this will help my riding and with Cannondale looking into the future to develop new things, that's great. For a rider, it's important to know that these efforts are being made.

CN: So Cannondale is making you a new Time Trial bike?

GS: Yes.

CN: When will you start using it?

GS: I hope soon; it should be here soon... then I can start fine tuning the bike. But there shouldn't be any problems getting started soon. I'm not sure yet when I'm going to race on this new (TT) bike; I'm quite meticulous when it comes to this so I really can't say. With the standardized (UCI) rules, it's hard to get everything set up right away.

CN: I saw that you are not using the SRM Powermeter system like so many other riders. How come?

GS: Four years ago... in '98, it seemed indispensable to go without using (SRM)... everyone thought you had to have it; it was the only way to go. But I don't use it anymore. For me, I look at my heart rate more than anything. I don't necessarily look at my minimum and maximum heart rate but use this as a way to see where I am in my training.

CN: Do you have a specific sports trainer you work with?

GS: I work with the team doctor, Dr. Daniele Tarsi. I don't use someone outside the team. Dr. Tarsi is good; I worked with him when I was on Ballan. For me, it's important that the team doctor is good and (Dr. Tarsi) was another reason for me to join Saeco.

CN: What is your favorite training ride?

 
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Climbing the Mottarone
Photo: © AFP

GS: My favorite ride is to go over to Lago di Garda. I go down from Palu' to Mori, then over to Riva del Garda, then up to what we call the 'tour of the lakes'... up around lago di Tenno and maybe lago di Molvena. It's really pretty up there; it usually takes four hours or so.

CN: So not much riding on the flats for you?

GS: To get there (lago di Garda) is downhill or flat on bike paths or quiet roads... when you climb up out of the (Adige) valley (to Garda) there are the first climbs to warm up on.

CN: So when you were making your attack on the Santa Barbara climb in last year's Giro, you were on your training roads?

GS: Yeah, it's a climb you can't do now (mid-January) because it's too cold but when it warms up, it's a beautiful climb, but really hard. It's (Santa Barbara) probably the hardest climb I do on my training rides from home. But there are harder climbs, like the Passo di Fedaia (Marmolada).

CN: What's your race program like for 2002?

GS: After my early preparation races, as for Milano-San Remo, I'd like to do this but it's not sure at this point whether I'll participate - I want to ride well in the northern classics like Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone.

After this, I've got the Giro di Trentino, Tour of Romandie and above all, the Giro d'Italia. Those are my first objectives; certainly, I want to be in form to be competitive in the Tour De France (if Saeco is invited)... with my desire to ride the Tour, I will have to change my training a bit; to be ready to be at peak form twice in a short time.

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Nice trophy!
Photo: © TM/CN
 

CN: So you probably won't ride the Tour de Suisse?

GS: I don't know yet; we'll see what happens after the Giro but that is how my program looks for the first part of the season.

CN: Will this be the first time you've ridden on the Ardennes Climbs?

GS: I did them when I rode the Tour ('95/Aki-Gipiemme); Bruyneel won the stage to Liege.

CN: That was a really hot, humid day!

GS: The heat really affected everybody and it seemed to me like the stage would never finish. Really hard... the team is really trying to do well in these (Ardennes) races this spring. You have to be calm and wait for the right moment to make your move.

CN: Where are you at now with your big disappointment from last year's World Championship?

GS: I still don't know why I'm not mad about this. I had a good lead; I was giving everything to win and to think that no one knew that I was ahead... when we finished, that's what everyone said but it's difficult for me to believe this. To think that your teammates would do something like this... and when I finally saw it (on TV), it left me with a bad feeling. But what helped me get over this was my Giro win.

CN: Did you have any problems with Lanfranchi in the past?

GS: Well we were always competitors; kind of like everyone else. In my opinion, well... the way the wheel turned... (hesitates, searching for the right word)... uhhh... well. At the World's, the fact that the Mapei rider (chased me down), Mapei had a strong presence on paper, and there was so much financially at stake for the Mapei riders - that's what cost me the World's.

We were riding on the National team. That was the biggest disappointment for me. At the World's, I was the only Lampre rider in the Italian team; I didn't have any teammates. I hadn't really done anything for anyone else and no one had worked for me when I attacked. Ask for little and hope that when the time came, the team support would be there. I was looking to get in a break with four or five other riders in the last two laps but that didn't happen.

I was in Lisbon to win; I made my move with the conviction that I could win. I saw a lot of riders who were there just to finish and I think that was stupid. Just to show that they were in the race.

Once in a while, I think that for me to go back to the National team, it might be difficult. For me to wear the Maglia Azzura again, I'll need a lot more than just the words that say I am on the team. There will have to be more guarantees about the way teammates will ride; so that I can trust them. Nothing else matters; otherwise riding a World Championships for me has no sense. Unless I have these guarantees, a World Championship selection is only a consolation prize and I don't want to win the consolation prize.

 
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The Simonis at home
Photo: © TM/CN

CN: Have you heard about the World's course in 2003 in Hamilton, Ontario?

GS: A little; as well as Verona (2004). I've been in Canada for a few weeks to visit a friend, Danny Pedri. We used to race together in an amateur team, Prodet in Bassano del Grappa and I went to visit him there.

CN: Hamilton has a lot of Italians.

CN: Danny lives in Windsor... there are lots of Italians there too.

CN: You have spoken recently of your ability to challenge Lance Armstrong on the climbs of the Tour De France. What was it about last year's Tour de Switzerland that gave you this idea?

GS: I was very tired in last year's Tour de Suisse after my Giro win; I really don't know what gives me my idea. I didn't have the aggression to win, but what I understand about Armstrong is his self-confidence; and to hear as I have recently that he considers me a rival, that's a good feeling. But sometimes, Armstrong's self-confidence destroys his competitors. What I saw on the climb of San Gottardo (in Stage 5/2001 Tour de Suisse) was that this self-confidence can be a mask to hide behind.

CN: Perhaps like when Armstrong cracked on the climb of the Joux-Plane on the 2000 Tour?

GS: Sure... he needs to be the boss of the race and keep things under control. But once in a while (referring to himself), one needs the courage to try and take away that mask, on certain days to have the guts to attack him. And maybe that will be a mistake; maybe he'll leave you there. OK; but you never know what will happen... one day or the other.

It's funny; speaking of Armstrong, many big riders say 'I'm not afraid of anyone'... but it's hard to go around and go after your rivals. Armstrong is very respectful of his rivals. Above all, Armstrong wants to maintain the equilibrium in the race; to stay in control of things.

CN: Should Saeco be invited to the Tour de France, you and Lance Armstrong could have an interesting rivalry.

GS: Well to do both the Giro and the Tour with all the tifosi will be great if it happens. But I can already invite Lance Armstrong to come and race in the Giro this year... this is my idea; that Armstrong and I start our challenge at the Giro d'Italia. Because for me, the Giro is #1 and Lance is the #1 star in the Tour, and that kind of challenge will be good for cycling; all the fans will love it.

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With Satie the parakeet
Photo: © TM/CN
 

Nonetheless, I want to win the Giro again and then be ready for the Tour. In the end, it's all an experiment and I don't like to experiment and then make a mistake. I know that Armstrong is really strong and really determined in the Tour de France. So I want to send this message to Lance; I want to invite him to come and race in the Giro this year. We can already start our challenge at the Giro and then continue it in the Tour De France!

For more on Simoni, visit his fan club website: www.simonigilberto.it

Thanks to Gibo Simoni, Signora Simoni, Claudio Corti, Carlo Petrozzi (Vitesse) and Satie the Parakeet

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