By Andrew Hood
At the ripe age of 34, Gilberto Simoni will be riding in the distinctive yellow and red jersey of Saunier Duval for the 2006 season.
The two-time Giro d’Italia winner has already mapped out his season’s top goals, which includes a start at the inaugural Tour of California as well as a run at a third maglia rosa.
“The team has an interest to go (to California) and make a good preparation,” Simoni told the Spanish daily Diario Vasco. “Later we’ll see which races I will start, but it’s sure I will go to the United States.”
Simoni said he’s excited about the new team and ready to take over the leadership role as sole captain for the Giro. The past two seasons at Saeco have been rife with controversy as Simoni and rising star Damiano Cunego battled for control of the team.
“It’s good to be the only leader for the Giro, but for sure I will have some teammates to cover my back,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to have a teammate watching your back, other times no.”
With the Giro being his top goal for the 2006 campaign, he left the door open to start at least one of the other grand tours.
“When I was 33, I thought I was in the last season as a professional racer, that I was in the final days as a cyclist, but later I saw that I still have things to do,” Simoni said. “I am going to try to win it again. My big objective is the Giro, but I also want to see what the team wants. Later I can race the Tour or the Vuelta to help the other riders.”
Simoni also said the Angliru was the hardest climb, more difficult than the Gavia, Mortirolo and Zoncolan climbs in Italy.
Vandenbroucke signs with Unibet.com
The oft-troubled Frank Vandenbroucke has penned a deal to ride for Unibet.com (formerly Mr. Bookmaker) for the 2006 season.
The Belgian daily Gazet van Antwerpen reported that his contract is good for one year after Vandenbroucke made it through a relatively smooth 2005 season without any major mishaps or controversy.
Vandenbroucke, once one of the top racing stars in Belgian, has been mired with doping and legal hassles for the past several years. He told the paper he dreams of racing the Tour de France next year.
Hometown rally for Heras
Roberto Heras’s hometown of Béjar in western Spain is planning a rally in support of its most famous citizen. Heras tested positive for EPO in the penultimate stage of the 2005 Vuelta and faces a two-year racing ban and the loss of the Vuelta victory.
Hometown fans are supporting Heras’s declarations of innocence and want to show support with a march through town Saturday.
“We are convinced of his innocence and all we are asking for is justice,” said Juan José Alisente, founder of the Roberto Heras fan club
Paris-Roubaix organizers still haven’t decided whether the feared Arenberg cobbles section will be back for the 2006 race. The famous section was removed from the 2005 race to undergo repair work, which evidently has yet to be completed.
“No decision has been made,” race director Jean-François Pescheux told L’Equipe. “We’re still waiting for a response from (local boards) on whether the work will be done.”
Liquigas-Bianchi plots strategy
Liquigas-Bianchi will have three leaders – Danilo Di Luca, Stefano Garzelli and Luca Paolini — for the 2006 season, with a lineup that includes 28 riders from eight nations. According to an interview with Datasport, team manager Roberto Amadio said the team will be well-represented in all the major events.
“Di Luca will be our man for the Giro,” Amadio said. Garzelli will lead for the Tour de France while Paolini will be a protected rider in the big classics and stage races that suit his style. Magnus Backstedt will once again focus on the northern classics hoping for a repeat of his 2004 Paris-Roubaix victory.
New DS for Ag2r
New French ProTour team Ag2r has named Julien Jurdie, a former pro, as a new sport director for the 2006 season. Jurdie raced from 1992-99 and was sport director at RAGT Semences for the past two seasons.