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Gilberto Simoni had been planning to make 2005 his last season in the pro peloton, but another very strong showing at his beloved Giro and a raft of offers from teams later in the year encouraged the 34-year-old Italian into signing a contract for one more year with the Spanish Saunier Duval team.
Currently in the middle of Saunier's first pre-season get-together, Simoni spoke to El Diario Vasco about his plans for next season and other matters close to his heart, telling the Basque paper he still has things he wants to achieve.
Chief among them, of course, is to secure a third Giro title, admitting he couldn't even think about starting the race without wanting to win it. Asked why riders of the calibre of Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo and, until his positive EPO test, Roberto Heras are considering riding Italy's grand tour, Simoni said he wasn't really sure, but added: "I'll be waiting for them there."
Waiting for all of them will be the fearful climbs of the Mortirolo and Gavia, but Simoni rates another mountain as the toughest he's tackled. "The Angliru is the toughest. There are six terrible kilometres on that mountain. What suffering! The Mortirolo is also hard and long, but it's not the Angliru. The fatigue you feel there is terrible. The Gavia is very long and has a lot of history, but it is not so hard," he said.
Asked who he thought is the sport's best climber, the Italian had hesitation in picking Lance Armstrong. "Then Heras and then Basso, who is not a pure climber." He lamented the current lack of climbing greats such as Marco Pantani and Jos Maria Jimenez, but said he had high hopes for young Spaniard Alberto Contador. "In Italy there is no one who stands out," he said, a dig perhaps at former team-mate Damiano Cunego, who outclimbed Simoni spectacularly at the 2004 Giro.
American fans of Simoni will have the chance to see the Italian racing in the Tour of California in February. "My season will start in the Majorca Challenge, but I will be going to California after that. The team has interests there and it will be good preparation. We will see what follows after that," he said.
As for his plans beyond 2006, Simoni would say no more than "I will know what to do as the season gets going." Retirement is almost certain, so don't miss the chance to see this great climber in action if you get the opportunity.
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