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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003

Gilberto Simoni - There's always tomorrow

Giro winner comes good in Loudenvielle

By Gabriella Ekström in Loudenvielle

"I still want to fight."
Photo: © J. Devich/Cyclingnews

After riding for days on end in merciless heat, the Tour de France riders finally saw the temperature drop under 30 degrees and big rain drops started to fall just as the riders got in the team buses and left Loudenvielle at the end of stage 14. Gilberto Simoni, who has suffered terribly in the heat, had hoped for rain and stormy weather today, but was never able to experience the blessing of the rain during the stage.

After just four of the stage's 191 kilometres, a 17 man strong group attacked from the peloton, and the man who wore the maglia rosa to Milano was one of them. "It was indeed a very early break, but as we went along I realised that the collaboration was good and that the work was fairly easy. I knew I didn't have to worry about things like intermediate sprints or mountain prizes, instead I focused only on the stage win."

An attack from Laurent Dufaux on Col du Portillon shredded the leftovers from the break into pieces, and with Dufaux over the summit followed only his former teammate and friend Richard Virenque and Simoni. "I knew they were friends, and I could also see that during the stage, but I wasn't really worried about a possible collaboration between the two of them," said 'Gibo' while fuelling up on water after the stage. "On a race course like this, and especially with this kind of finish, I don't think you can reach an agreement with anyone. It's everyone for themselves."

After outsprinting Dufaux in the shadow of Col de Peyresourde, 'Gibo' was both overjoyed and amazed and told Lance Armstrong behind the podium that he had no idea how he managed to win.

"I was very clear in my mind this morning that I wanted to win this stage. My team manager Giuseppe Martinelli came up to me yesterday and told me to go home. He thought I'd be better off at home instead of being dropped on every climb here. I said I didn't want to go. There's something in my character that prevents me from giving up, so I told him that I really wanted to go on with the race. Even if I'm having a bad day, I still want to fight. A winner is someone who doesn't give up, someone who thinks that if today wasn't good, tomorrow must be better."

After coming to the Tour with his mind set on a possible Giro/Tour double, 'Gibo' was keen to find some consolation after having his dream ruined by illness in the first week. "I have been going through some hard days, because I have been feeling really ill," he said. "I still don't know exactly what was wrong, because I never had a high temperature or so, but I was in really bad shape. It's ironic, because I was very satisfied with my ride in the prologue, where I was only 13 seconds behind the yellow jersey. I've never ridden such a good prologue before. Then in the team time trial on stage 4 we weren't able to do such a great race, but I'll blame that on our lack of experience in that kind of racing. I thought I would be able to recover well after that stage, but I couldn't.

"It is not the same thing to win a stage as it would have been to win the whole race, but it is definitely a achievement and not an easy one. I didn't want to go home without this one. I tried to get in a break yesterday, but it turned out be a bad break, so I went for it again today. In a way, my achievement here today make up for the bad days."

Almost one and a half hour behind Lance in the general classification, the yellow jersey is of course unreachable for Simoni this year, but is he still positive that the he will be able to conquest the Giro/Tour combination in the future?

"Yes, I believe I can. I targeted that this year and obviously I failed, but I will come back with that in my mind. Last time I rode the Tour was in '97, but then I had no such ambitions. This year, my goal was very different. My team and I need more experience in the team time trials, and I need to learn how to master the heat in a better way. It's a learning process to be able to perform well in the heat."

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