By Andrew Hood
Filippo Simeoni thought winning the Italian national championship last year would help him salvage the final years of his career. He was wrong.
The prestigious tricolore jersey didn’t help him find a ride with a larger, better-funded team and Simeoni was forced to stay with bottom-rung Ceramica Flaminia during 2009.
At least he was holding out hope on wearing the distinctive Italian jersey during the Giro d’Italia.
But those dreams were dashed when race organizers overlooked Simeoni’s modest squad when handing out wild-card invitations.
With the Giro set to start Saturday in Venice, a bitter Simeoni handed back his prized red, green and white national jersey to officials at the Italian cycling federation on Monday.
“It’s unacceptable that the Italian champion cannot line up for the most important event in his country,” Simeoni said. “I’m giving back the jersey because I no longer want to wear it. It’s a strong statement, a provocation, against injustice, for the love of cycling, to try to break the hypocrisy of the sport.”
Simeoni stewed that smaller teams with unimpressive results were given invites at the expense of his Flaminia team, pointing to Spanish team Galicia-Xacobea and Italian squad ISD.
After an inconsistent spring, the Flaminia team rode well at the recent Giro del Trentino, with Giampaolo Caruso finishing seventh overall.
The 37-year-old Simeoni even suggested that his unsavory relationship with Lance Armstrong could have been the root of the problem.
Armstrong and Simeoni locked horns over the years, but despite public words of a détente on both sides, there evidently hasn’t been reconciliation between the two riders.
Race officials, however, see it another way and quickly pointed to the team’s recent performances.
The team was invited to Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo – two other events organized by Giro presenter RCS Sport – and the team did not fare well. At Tirreno, the entire team abandoned due to a severe bout of the stomach flu while Simeoni didn’t finish San Remo.
Giro director Angelo Zomegnan brushed off suggestions by Simeoni that his team was overlooked due to economic considerations, calling Simeoni’s gesture of returning the jersey as “media showboating.”
“The return of the jersey is a gesture of immense media spectacle,” Zomegnan told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We gave Simeoni a chance. At Tirreno, he arrived a half-hour late and then did not finish while at San Remo he had seven hours to speak with Armstrong to clear this all up and he didn’t. This is not a way to live in a civilized system.”
By Tuesday, even the Italian professional riders association joined the fray, issuing a statement chastising Simeoni for criticizing them for not standing up for him.
It seems Simeoni just can’t catch a break anywhere.