Outsider Simeoni to fly the flag
Sunday, September 19, 2004 11.00pm
From the brink of total exile Filippo Simeoni has returned to force his way into the Italian nationa
Filippo Simeoni spoke to procycling this evening of his joy and trepidation at being selected to represent Italy at the forthcoming world championships in Verona. Simeoni described the news as "a dream come true" and attributed his persuasive recent performances to "the rage which I built up inside after the Tour de France". Simeoni's long-standing feud with Lance Armstrong famously spilled over at this year's Tour, leading to Italian police opening an ongoing investigation into the sextuple Tour champion's actions. The 33-year-old Domina Vacanze rider is part of a fifteen-man squad picked by Italian selector Franco Ballerini for the Verona road race. An azzurri team with a clear climbing-bias is spearheaded, as expected, by Paolo Bettini, Damiano Cunego, Stefano Garzelli and Ivan Basso. Also included is Daniele Nardello, a vocal ally of Armstrong who, Simeoni claims, "accused him spitting into the soup" during the Tour. "I'm a little anxious about Nardello being in the team," Simeoni admitted to procycling tonight. "I'll see how he reacts. I will be absolutely professional and I hope he is too. I don't want to court controversy. But what happened at the Tour between him and me is impossible to forget. His attitude to me was really ugly." Crucial to Simeoni's selection, he believes, was the support of the Italian Cycling Federation, which was quick to rally in his favour against Armstrong in July. "The Italian Federation is making a strong statement by picking me, on merit," Simeoni said tonight. "Ballerini had complemented me on my riding over the past few weeks but I still thought that the events of the Tour could rule me out. I have been riding at a high level for several weeks now, but the anger has kept me going. That has kept me motivated to keep training and to keep trying to ride myself into the Italian team. "The public support, too, has been overwhelming," Simeoni continued. "I have received heaps of letters and fantastic ovations wherever I have ridden." A landmark week for Simeoni could be complete in the next 72 hours with the judge in the trial of Michele Ferrari due to return his verdict in Bologna (see story "Armstrong facing double threat"). Simeoni's disagreements with Armstrong stem from the Italian's testimony in Bologna in 2002. Simeoni alleged that Ferrari had advised him to take EPO. "Frankly, I hope that he is convicted," said Simeoni tonight of his former doctor, now an advisor to Armstrong. In an exclusive interview with procycling magazine this month, Simeoni claims that "the few months I spent with Ferrari ruined my life." Simeoni's legal grudge match with Armstrong received a further boost last week when a judge in Paris asked journalists from Le Monde for recordings of an interview in which Armstrong is quoted as calling Simeoni an "absolute liar" in 2003. The same alleged comments form the basis of a defamation case brought by Simeoni against Armstrong in Italy. Tonight Simeoni said that he was still awaiting news of both this and Italian investigations into Armstrong's conduct at the Tour.
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