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Simoni: ‘Armstrong definitely doesn’t frighten me on the climbs, and he knows it’

When the gang at Team Saeco sends out a press release, it’s not just a piece of puff pastry – there’s usually some real meat for anyone hungry for news about the squad. And the following question-and-answer session with team leader Gilberto Simoni shows that the Spaniards aren’t the only ones talking a good game at this year’s Tour. – Editor Q: The Tour has been defined as more than just a sporting event and even more than a show. It has been defined as a mental state. Do you agree? Do you feel it in that way? A: Some riders have much more experience of the Tour than I have, but I agree

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When the gang at Team Saeco sends out a press release, it’s not just a piece of puff pastry – there’s usually some real meat for anyone hungry for news about the squad. And the following question-and-answer session with team leader Gilberto Simoni shows that the Spaniards aren’t the only ones talking a good game at this year’s Tour. – Editor

Q: The Tour has been defined as more than just a sporting event and even more than a show. It has been defined as a mental state. Do you agree? Do you feel it in that way?

A: Some riders have much more experience of the Tour than I have, but I agree that there is a special feeling. As we wait for the race to start in Paris, I can feel the tension building. I’d say the Tour, this Tour is a huge emotion which everybody should try.

Q: Are you happy with your build-up to the race?

A: My feelings are different compared to other events, but I’m motivated, and so I’m happy. I know I’ve made a lot of sacrifices so that I can be competitive at the Tour. I’ve given up a lot of things even after winning the Giro.

Q: You’ve never stopped racing during this season.

A: That’s how you get results, thanks to constantly improving your fitness and thanks to the enthusiasm that good results give you and convince you of your ability. This year my win at the Giro del Trentino set me up for a great Giro d’Italia. The pink jersey of the Giro has in turn set me up for the Tour de France. Now we’ll see what happens.

Q: You are one of Lance Armstrong’s major rivals. That’s a big responsibility.

A: Yes, but I don’t feel any pressure because of it. When I see him on Saturday I give him a pat on the back and say: “I’m in the race as well.”

Q: Is it a duel?

A: No, it’s just that I’m convinced I can do well. I went to see some of the Tour climbs because I want to do everything right. I’ve memorized every corner of certain climbs and descents.

Q: Last year there wasn’t a duel, but Armstrong was worried about you.

A: We went up against each other at the Tour of Switzerland in 2001. He was first and I was second. He learned then that I can climb. It was a pity that we didn’t race against each other in 2002. That route was more suitable to me.

Q: So are your hopes and ambitions limited?

A: No, because if on one hand the route doesn’t really suit me, on the other I’m convinced I’ve got a strong team and that will be very important in the first week.

Q: Indeed, the first few stages are full of dangers.

A: Also because the big mountains come early on in the race. The Alps will be decisive after just a week, especially L’Alpe d’Huez, but I’ve memorized everything, every corner.

Q: And what do you think about the team time trial?

A: I’ve been thinking about it for several days. I think we can do well and be very competitive. I’ve got a lot of faith in my team.

Q: But naturally you will have to wait for the big mountains to play your best cards?

A: Armstrong definitely doesn’t frighten me on the climbs, and he knows it.

Q: How would you summarize your Tour?

A: People ask me to beat Armstrong. That’s a big responsibility. Most of all I know I have to beat myself. If I can perform better than what I think I can, give it everything, I’m sure I’ll have a great Tour, it’s guaranteed.

Q: What would be the most exciting thing for you in this Tour?

A: To be able to drop Armstrong in the mountains, to make him suffer, and then not give up.