By Andrew Hood
An irritated Gilberto Simoni said he might never return to the Tour de France after a three-week debacle that saw the two-time Giro d’Italia champion never rate as a challenger to Lance Armstrong’s dominance.
Simoni said his performance was hampered by the exclusion of Danilo Di Luca, two crashes – first in the team time trial and another crash at Angers — then the exclusion of his domestique and friend Stefano Casagranda.
“The Tour started badly and then was characterized by all the arguments and the bad weather rather than by the riders,” Simoni said in an interview on Saeco’s web page. “We didn’t suddenly discover that Armstrong was very strong, we all knew he was the one to beat. I’d hoped to show myself but I have to say I was unlucky.”
Simoni said he was bothered by the exclusion of Di Luca and later by Casagranda, both caught up in separate doping investigations, prompting Tour de France officials to remove any rider under investigation.
”Before the race we were put under pressure because of what happened to Danilo. His exclusion was unfair but then things were made worse by the exclusion of Stefano. The thing that irritated me the most was the complete uselessness of all the different rider associations,” Simoni said. “Nobody stood up for the riders and even the UCI changed their position which isn’t fair. The Tour is without a doubt the most important stage race in the world but it’s us the riders who put on the show and so we should have been shown more respect.”
Simoni went on to say the high speed of the opening half of the Tour took it out on many of the climbing specialists, but that he was feeling good until the Pyrénées.
“As I said it was a tough Tour. The thing that struck me the most was the high average speed, on every stage and right from the start. Something always happened from the first kilometer, a crash, a break and so the team was vital. U.S. Postal, T-Mobile and CSC kept the speed at a record high and this definitely did not help me to stay in form,” he said. “I was surprised that in the first ten days I never really worked over my aerobic threshold even when we went hard. That seemed like a good sign but when the weather heated up I suddenly found myself struggling to breath and unfortunately we hit the Pyrénées straight away.”
Though he hoped for more, Simoni said he couldn’t help but tip his hat to Armstrong.
“He’s an incredible professional and was in perfect form. Six Tours in a row are not down to good luck. You need both incredible physical and mental form to do what he did,” Simoni said. “However, he was also lucky that things never went against him. You don’t win the Tour just with good luck but you can lose it with bad luck.”
Simoni also shot down rumors he would leave Saeco following a contentious Giro, that saw the team rally around eventual winner Damiano Cunego.
“As far the Tour is concerned, as long as it’s like it is and until riders are not supported and defended properly, I won’t be back. I’ve obviously got the wrong mental approach and that hurts me but I want to understand what my objectives can be and then try and achieve them”.
However there is no doubt about Simoni’s future.”I hope I can stay with Saeco. I’ve won a lot with them and I’ve got a contract for another year. I’d still like to be part of the red train”.
Damon set to play Armstrong in movie
It seems a Lance Armstrong movie is finally getting off the ground. According to a report on the Star web page, actor Matt Damon is getting in shape to play the six-time Tour champion in an upcoming biopic.
According to the report, Damon is in negotiations to play Armstrong in producer Frank Marshall’s new project. Marshall was on hand during the recent Tour.
Millar hopes to be role model
Disgraced world champion David Millar says he hopes he will be allowed to work with the cycling authorities to warn against the dangers of doping, Reuters reported.
Millar, fired by his Cofidis team last week, faces a minimum two-year ban after he confessed to taking the stamina-boosting drug EPO.
“I made mistakes and am ready to learn. I’d like to explain the dangers to young riders,” he told the Manchester Guardian. “I am someone who can give reasons why cyclists should not take drugs.”
The 27-year-old acknowledges what he has done, and says he is keen that other people in the sport can benefit from the mistakes he made.
‘I want to show how I got round the system and I’m willing to work with the International Cycling Union and British Cycling Federation,” he said. “I think it’s the one thing I can do.”
The vital evidence that led to Millar’s downfall was the discovery by police of a pair of syringes which he used to inject himself before the world championship in October 2003. He said the experience of winning on drugs had “scarred” him and he had kept them to remind himself of how far he had compromised his principles.
“I had got to a point where I had wanted to win so much that to guarantee my victory I did something I didn’t need to do. I didn’t want to forget about it,” he said.
Beloki back for Vuelta
Joseba Beloki is set to return to competition next week at the Clasica San Sebastian (Aug. 7) as part of his goal of riding the Vuelta a España in September with hopes of a strong overall performance.
Beloki was rolled out by his new team, Spanish newcomer Saunier Duval, which agreed Friday to sign the three-time Tour de France podium finisher to race the remainder of the 2004 season and next year.
“I am motivated to return to be on a competitive team, a team that is going to give me a chance to be ahead in the race and, above all, takes care of me,” said Beloki, who reportedly turned down offers from foreign teams to sign with the Spanish squad. “To be on a foreign team would take me away from the Vuelta, which is my principal objective and, for questions of self-motivation, I prefer to stay here.”
Beloki split from the French Brioches La Boulangére team after it became evident he wasn’t going to be in condition to race the Tour. The 30-year-old Spanish rider has struggled to regain his top fitness since he crashed out of last year’s Tour, breaking his wrist, femur and elbow.
Belgian cyclist Dave Bruylandts has been fired by his team Chocolat Jacques on Wednesday after failing a drugs test earlier this year.
The 28-year-old team leader tested positive for the blood-boosting drug Erythropoietin (EPO) following a test by the UCI in April.
“We couldn’t do anything else but sack him. We’ve talked with team bosses and sponsors and we gradually came to this solution – to sack him,” said team manager Noel Demeulenaere.
“It’s a real pity for a rider of such talent,” Demeulenaere said. “Everyone knows the price to pay when they are ‘caught’ doping. I hope for Dave Bruylandts’s sake that he will not be too harshly punished and that he’s learned a lesson.”
Bruylandts, who denies doping and has blamed food supplements for his positive test, risks a ban of between six months and four years.
The Dutch Farm-Frites team sacked him in March of 2000 for showing an abnormal hematocrit level in a UCI blood test.
Final Pantani report confirms cocaine overdose
Marco Pantani died after taking huge quantities of cocaine, the doctor who carried out the autopsy on the troubled cyclist confirmed on Wednesday.
“In the final period of his life he had grave psychological problems derived from a massive consumption of cocaine,” Giuseppe Fortuni wrote in his report for state prosecutor Paolo Gengarelli, legal sources revealed Wednesday.
“Very large quantities (of cocaine) were found in his system – he died from an overdose,” Fortuni added.
The doctor’s diagnosis rules out the possibility that the 1998 Tour de France winner had taken his own life.
“In such conditions suicide is absolutely unimaginable,” Fortuni emphasized.
The 34-year-old Pantani was found dead in a room at The Roses hotel in this Adriatic coastal of Rimini on February 14.
Fortuni’s autopsy revealed the cyclist died after suffering a heart attack caused by severe swelling of the heart and brain.