By Andrew Hood
Gilberto Simoni admitted he’s not on the same form as he was this time last year after stumbling through a lackluster string of performances in Spain.
The defending Giro d’Italia champion said cold, rainy weather during the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour of Aragon were not to his liking. He abandoned both races while arch-rival Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) took victory in Aragon on final-day time bonuses.
“I know I’m not in the same form as I was last year and I know that Garzelli is definitely riding better than me at the moment,” Simoni said on the team’s web page. “However, I’m not demoralized because there are clear explanations why my form is still at its best. Mainly because I haven’t been able to race in good weather conditions this season, it’s always rained and been cold and I need sunny weather to be at my best.”
Up next for the two-time Giro champion is this week’s Giro di Trentino (April 20-23), his hometown race. Simoni says he’s expecting a strong return to form in time for the Giro’s start May 8 in Genova.
“Everybody is expecting me to do well because I won the ‘maglia rosa’ at last year’s Giro and because I even won the Trentino race,” Simoni said. “I’ve got a very reliable team and I’m sure quality riders such as Bertagnolli and Cunego will make their presence felt.”
In the meantime, Simoni’s early exit from Aragon meant he had time to preview the Giro’s decisive time trial at Trieste.
“It was important to see the time trial course because it is quite different to the one Alex Zulle won a few years ago when he set a supersonic average speed,” Simoni said. “After just a few kilometers there is the start of the climb and then there is a technical part of the course which in theory gives me an advantage. After the summit the rest of the course is for time trial specialists and so I think we’ll have to even consider changing bikes at the top.”
O’Grady fights to defend good name
Australian Stuart O’Grady finds himself caught up in the web of doping allegations and a forced race stoppage since joining the Cofidis team. O’Grady came to Cofidis after riding his entire career with Gan/Credit Agricole.
O’Grady has not been implicated, but he broke his silence about the controversy with an entry in his internet diary, the Age newspaper reported. O’Grady said the uncertainty surrounding his team and his future had made this “probably the hardest week of my life, not knowing what is happening or going to happen.”
“Next week a meeting between the board members of Cofidis will (be) presented all the information submitted by the riders and team members as to why the team should continue. We have to prove the allegations are not true,” O’Grady said. “I am positive they are not true and hope with all my heart that the board sees through (Gaumont’s) crazy allegations and don’t let him destroy this great team.”
The arrest and public declarations from Philippe Gaumont about rampant doping with Cofidis and cycling in general prompted the Cofidis sponsor to temporarily drop out of racing.
O’Grady continued: “Surely we can’t all suffer because of one person’s word against an entire team’s. The best way to prove our innocence, I think, is to supply every rider’s drug-test results to the board. … Since Philippe Gaumont has admitted to taking drugs, virtually his whole career, and who has already gone positive three times in his career, (and) has been fired from the team, he has been on a mission to bring down the team single-handedly. … Every one of his crazy allegations, aimed at just about every rider in the team, has been hitting the papers. It’s unbelievable. Whatever he says, they write. True or not. And it’s done quite a bit of damage.”
Petacchi to race Romandie to hone Giro form
Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), fresh off two stages victories in the Tour of Aragon, says he will use May’s Tour of Romandie as a final honing ground for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
Petacchi’s showdown with sprinting legend Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) will be one of the most anticipated this season. The two will spar at the Giro then at the Tour de France. Petacchi said he’s still not sure if he’ll race in the Vuelta a España.
“This year I have on my calendar the Giro and the Tour, but it will be complicated to repeat what I did last year in the three grand tours,” said Petacchi, who won four or more stages in each of the three grand tours last year. “I always like the Vuelta, but I don’t know if I will race there.”
Petacchi easily scored victory in Sunday’s sprint a day after thinking he’d won Saturday’s stage only to realize later that two riders that had been away in an escape had already crossed the line victorious.
“I didn’t realize the two riders were still ahead,” Petacchi said. “Today (Sunday) the team worked well so gain this new victory.”
Zberg fractures knee
Swiss rider Beat Zberg crashed hard in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, fracturing his kneecap. Teammate to winner Davide Rebellin on the Gerolsteiner team, Zberg was transferred to a hospital in Maastricht for treatment.