Gilberto Simoni: Arrivederci Gibo, Grazie e Ciao
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Monday, May 31, 2010

Gilberto Simoni: Arrivederci Gibo, Grazie e Ciao

by Ben Atkins at 11:52 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia
 
Two-time winner hangs up his wheels after one final Giro

Gilberto SimoniThe end of this year’s Giro d’Italia also marked the end of one of the career of one of the most colourful and popular characters in Italian cycling. Two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni managed to persuade the management of the Lampre-Farnese Vini team to hire him for one last tilt at the corsa rosa, but now the 38-year-old has decided to hang up his wheels for good.

Having crossed the finish line in Verona’s Piazza Bra, the former champion – known as “Gibo d’Italia” – took off his blue and fuscia skinsuit to reveal a black jersey and shorts with a white shirt and pink tie. He put on a plain black helmet, climbed onto his black and pink road bike and rolled into the Roman Arena as though dressed in a fine Italian suit.

A quiet finish to an outspoken career

Simoni’s final race did not go as well as planned and he ended up in a rather anonymous 69th place, 2 hours and 40 minutes behind Liquigas-Doimo’s Ivan Basso. He managed to lose time behind just about every split, and even finished in some of the slower groups in the early mountain stages, so by the time the race reached his beloved Dolomiti he was already almost 2 hours down.

As a native of the village of Palù di Giovo, just outside Trento, Simoni was always at his best in the mountains, where he’d built his two Giro victories. Sadly though, at 38 Simoni found the younger men’s pace too quick for him on his old stamping ground; he lost a further 40 minutes to the men that he used to dominate, but this is not how his fans will remember him.

"From tomorrow I will think only of the races that I won,” he told the Trentino Corrieri Alpi. “There are races that I’ll miss. My victories are made of hard work; not by finishing in a 200 metre sprint, but after hours of climbing thousands of metres of altitude.

“Looking closely, I won a lot less than others. But my successes are all fantastic.”

A slow start followed by a sudden rise

After winning the 1993 Baby Giro, Simoni turned professional the following year but failed to win a race until 1997. A bad 1998 saw him briefly retire before signing for the Ballan team in 1999, when his fortunes began to change.

That year saw the first of his eight Giro d’Italia podium finishes as he took third behind Ivan Gotti and Paolo Savoldelli; his performance was dismissed by many though as his finishing position benefited from the late disqualification of Marco Pantani. After signing for the Lampre-Daikin team the next year, he repeated that third place and took his first stage in the race in the ski resort of Bormio, not far from his home.

2001 saw the first of his two race victories, dominating the race after taking the lead on stage 12. He took two stage wins, including a rare time trial victory, and finished the race 7’31” ahead of second place Abraham Olano. He still rates that first ever maglia rosa as the most beautiful moment of his career.

2003 was even more dominant as he won 3 stages and took the points classification as well. He hoped to do as well in the Tour de France that year too, claiming that he would challenge Lance Armstrong in the mountains; the challenge never appeared though but he did take a stage in the Pyrénées.

Those Peruvian lozenges!

Between his two Giro wins though was the biggest controversy of Simoni’s career. While poised to successfully defend his 2001 title, he tested positive for a derivative of cocaine and was thrown off the race. It was later accepted that he had inadvertently taken the substance into his system via some throat lozenges brought back from Peru by his aunt; he escaped suspension but his stage 11 victory was annulled.

Fighting the Young Pretenders

In 2004 Simoni signed for Saeco and returned to the Giro aiming to add his own name to the list of three-time winners, unfortunately for the defending champion though his main rival came from within his own team. Having won the previous month’s Giro del Trentino the 22-year-old Damiano Cunego came to the race with better form than the older Simoni and promptly beat him in the Giro too. The two-riders’ off the bike rivalry made almost as many headlines as the race itself, with Simoni yelling “Bastardo!” at Cunego as his teammate rode past him to win the stage in Bormio. Simoni was less than satisfied with yet another third place that year.

The following year, with the team having merged with his old Lampre team, the pair entered the 2005 Giro as joint captains. This time the team and its sponsors played on the two riders’ rivalry in a positive way, but in truth Cunego was not competitive and he was later diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus. Simoni finished just 28 seconds behind winner Paolo Savoldelli in one of the closest podiums in Grand Tour history.

After signing for the Saunier Duval team in 2006 Simoni once again finished on the Giro podium, in third place. This time he got into another public row with race winner Ivan Basso after Simoni claimed that he had offered him the stage victory in Aprica in exchange for working with him to put time into Basso’s rivals. Basso instead rode away from Simoni on the climb to the finish and dedicated his victory to the newborn son that he had not yet seen; Simoni was not impressed, but the two reconciled later as Simoni withdrew his statements.

The next year he missed it for the first time, managing fourth, although he did managed to win on Monte Zoncolan for the second successive time. By now though, age was catching up with him and after signing for the Androni Giocattoli team in 2008 he managed just 10th and 23rd in the next two years.

Away from the Giro

Aside from his success at the Giro, Simoni has enjoyed limited success. In addition to his one Tour stage he has also taken two in the Vuelta a España, including one at the mythical Alto de l’Angliru in 2000. He might have won the World championships in 2001, but his last lap attack was famously chased down by Italian teammate Paolo Lanfranchi (Lanfranchi’s Mapei teammate Oscar Freire of Spain won). This was the event that led to the appointment of Franco Ballerini as national coach and the team has been united ever since.

During the season of 2006 Simoni was looking for new challenges and began to turn more of his attention to mountainbiking; he became the Italian mountainbike marathon champion that year. That winter he was also persuaded by then teammate David Millar to take part in one of the Revolutions track meetings in Manchester, despite having been in a vélodrome just four or five times before.

It is for his successes in his home Tour that Simoni will be most remembered for though, both racing with and speaking from his heart.

Arrivederci Gibo, grazie e ciao.

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