From Velo News
Simeoni blasts Armstrong return
Reigning Italian national champion Filippo Simeoni blasted the comeback of Lance Armstrong and said he would have nothing to say to the Texan if the pair ends up racing the 2009 Giro d’Italia.
Simeoni, who had an infamous run-in with Armstrong during the 2004 Tour de France, angrily told Spanish journalist Quique Iglesias that the seven-time Tour champion should have stayed retired.
“I don’t accept or recognize Armstrong’s return,” Simeoni said in an interview with the Spanish daily AS. “A big champion ought to know when to say enough is enough. It looks like he couldn’t stand this time away from the front pages. He says he’s coming back for his foundation, which I honor, but there has to be something else. I suppose it’s to clean his image.”
The 37-year-old Simeoni earned the wrath of Armstrong’s anger when the Italian confessed to taking the banned blood booster EPO and human growth hormones while under treatment and direction from notorious Italian doctor Michele Ferrari during the 1990s.
Simeoni’s confession put extra heat on Armstrong, who staunchly defended his own controversial relationship with Ferrari. Armstrong later called Simeoni a liar in a 2003 interview, a charge that later ended up in the courts.
Armstrong’s anger boiled over during the 2004 Tour, when he chased down an attempt by Simeoni to bridge out to a promising breakaway in stage 18.
Armstrong’s presence with the yellow jersey in the group all but assured the breakaway’s quick death, so under pressure from others in the attack, Simeoni slowly faded back until the main peloton caught up.
Armstrong shadowed Simeoni’s every move and allegedly harassed and insulted Simeoni. Armstrong, meanwhile, said he was “defending the interests of the peloton.”
For Simeoni, it was a crushing moment that left him scarred as he tried to continue his career.
“His attitude and his words made me fall into depression. I had confessed that I had doped when I followed the treatment of Dr. Ferrari in the 1990s. I paid my price for confessing,” he said. “Later, (Armstrong) called me a liar and we ended up in the courts. In 2004, I wanted to win a stage at the Tour. I escaped in stage 18 with other cyclists, but he personally took it upon himself to neutralize the escape. It was a threat to me. A lot of my compatriots insulted me when I returned to the peloton. They told me I was an embarrassment and that I dirtied the name of the peloton and spoiled the plate that I had eaten from all of my life.”
Simeoni, however, had the last word, going on two attacks late in the final stage into Paris, forcing Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates from celebrations to chase down the accelerations.
Simeoni raced for Naturino in 2005-06, but has since had trouble finding a team that would risk signing him to a contract. He won a stage at the Quinghai Lake tour in 2005, his last victory before his dramatic win at the Italian national championship in June.
Despite wearing the prized “tricolore” national Italian jersey, no continental or ProTour Italian team has shown any interest in signing him.
Simeoni sees that as a snub going back to his Ferrari testimony and his run-in with Armstrong, who continued to wield influence and engender fear in the peloton even when retired.
“I’m hoping not to retire. I don’t want to because, despite being 37, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to show off my national jersey,” he said. “I’d like to race the Giro one more time. I believe I deserve it.”
Simeoni is still holding out that his current team – the modest Flaminia-Bossini Docce – could receive a Giro invitation. His fans have created a Facebook page to bolster support for Simeoni’s bid to start the Giro.
“We’ve spoken with the Giro organization, but we have doubts that they’ll invite us,” he said. “I have no idea why. It would be the first time in history that the (Italian) national champion cannot compete in the largest race of his country. It’s unacceptable.”
If Flaminia does receive an invite, it would be the first Armstrong and Simeoni will be in the same race since their infamous confrontation in the 2004 Tour.
“I would like to think that Armstrong wouldn’t veto my presence (in the Giro), but everything is possible. I don’t believe in anything anymore,” he said.
When asked what he would say to Armstrong if they do coincide in Venice for the start of the 2009 Giro, Simeoni replied it would be Armstrong who should speak first.
“The minimum that he has to do is ask me for pardon what he did to me. I have nothing to say to him,” he said. “My life carried on since those times. I am proud that I confessed and that I am a clean cyclist.”
Armstrong responds to Simeoni
Lance Armstrong says he isn’t responsible for the dismal state of Filippo Simeoni’s career, nor has he ever done anything to intimidate the Italian champion.
In an interview with VeloNews Saturday, the seven-time Tour de France winner said he was bothered by Simeoni’s comments as they appeared in the Spanish daily AS and later reported on VeloNews.com.
Not given the opportunity to respond until now, Armstrong offered his reaction to Simeoni’s comments about the American’s return to racing, the Italian’s current search for a team and what really happened on stage 18 of the 2004 Tour de France.
On the comeback
Simeoni told AS journalist Quique Iglesias that he neither accepted, nor acknowledged, Armstrong’s comeback to pro racing.
“It looks like he couldn’t stand this time away from the front pages,” Simeoni said. “He says he’s coming back for his foundation, which I honor, but there has to be something else. I suppose it’s to clean his image.”
Armstrong said Simeoni couldn’t be further from the truth.
“First off, nowhere does it say you are prohibited from retiring and coming back to racing,” Armstrong said. “I can come back if I want to come back. People could argue that my name has been in the news plenty over the last three years with relationships alone, and I don’t care for that. [The Lance Armstrong Foundation] passed Proposition 15 in Texas [in October 2007], and we’ve had success in Texas and the U.S. To say my name wasn’t in the press since I left racing is ridiculous. And I don’t need Simeoni’s permission to come back. My intent is pure, it’s a reality, and we are moving forward with it.”
The 2004 Tour
Armstrong’s contentious relationship with Simeoni — dating back to comments Armstrong made in April 2003 about Simeoni’s testimony against Dr. Michele Ferrari — is well documented. However when it comes to the events of the 18th stage of the 2004 Tour de France, Armstrong said that the Italian’s version of what took place is simply not true.
“First off, I did not chase Simeoni down,” Armstrong said. “I was simply following his wheel. That is the truth of the matter. I never bridged across to Simeoni. He was in front of me, people were attacking, he accelerated, and I stayed on the wheel. We have footage of the race that will back that up. There was never more than bike length between us. There was no gap closed. There’s a big difference between following wheels and closing a gap.”
Armstrong said he’d naturally expected the peloton to follow, and was surprised to see that the pair had opened a gap when they reached the day’s breakaway a few kilometers later.
“I was completely shocked when I turned around and there was no one on my wheel,” Armstrong said. “I was fully expecting to see the rest of the group, because I was in the [yellow] jersey. But Simeoni pulled for two minutes, and I followed his wheel. That’s racing. He really was a minor story that day. I knew T-Mobile would have to work, and that was good for us, to make your biggest adversaries work to chase down a break. It was two minutes at the biggest gap, and that meant they would have to work hard to chase us down.”
And what about the infamous images of Armstrong flashing Simeoni the international “zip the lips” gesture? Armstrong said that had nothing to do with Simeoni’s comments about Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari, and everything to do with the Italian rider’s loud protests in the breakaway group.
“People will say that was all about the omerta, the code of silence,” Armstrong said. “That’s nonsense. It’s because Simeoni was yelling at everybody, about everything. We joined the breakaway, and everyone was working except him. He was sitting on. I was working with guys in the group. He would not pull, but he was yelling about everything.”
As for Simeoni’s claims that once he and Armstrong returned to the peloton his colleagues berated him with insults, telling him he had “dirtied the name of the peloton and spoiled the plate that I had eaten from all of my life,” Armstrong said simply, “That wasn’t my intention. I was racing my bike. I can’t apologize for racing my bike.”
Iglesias’ AS piece also focused on how Simeoni, the 2008 Italian national champion, has been unable to land a contract with a continental pro or ProTour team for 2009. His absence from next year’s Giro could make him the first tricolore in memory without an invitation to Italy’s most important race.
Simeoni suggested that Armstrong, who brought the Giro international attention after announcing that he intends to compete in 2009, might have something to do with the Italian’s recent employment woes.
“I would like to think that Armstrong wouldn’t veto my presence [in the Giro], but everything is possible,” the 37-year-old Simeoni told AS. “I don’t believe in anything anymore.”
However Armstrong fired back that Simeoni would not be able to race the Giro because his Flaminia team, a continental pro team in 2008, is not currently part of the UCI biological passport program.
Giro director Angelo Zomegnan, head of RCS Sport, recently announced that all teams participating in the 2009 event must be part of the UCI biological passport. However Zomegnan said the same prior to the 2008 edition, yet invited CSF Navigare, which was not part of the 2008 passport program.
The UCI has not yet announced teams expected to participate in the 2009 biological passport, but it is unlikely that a smaller-budget squad such as Flaminia would have the means to afford participation.
“It’s not my fault if Simeoni doesn’t have a team and is not accepted into the Giro,” Armstrong said. “If you are the Italian national champion and you don’t have a team, I think it says something about you, not about me. I would think he would have offers to be on a ProTour team, and apparently he does not. If you were an Italian team director, and you had the opportunity to hire the tricolore, and you could hire him for next to nothing, and you still didn’t, what does that tell you? Those are questions for him, and for the teams in Italy. If he cannot do the Tour of Italy because he’s not part of the biological passport, then that’s a question for him, for the UCI and for RCS. Those are the rules. He ought to look at the rules. That’s got nothing to do with me.”