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Gilberto Simoni is being pursued by at least three teams following his departure from Lampre-Caffita and the subsequent collapse of the mooted Sony Ericsson team. The two-time Giro winner and runner-up in this year's race was already being courted by the Italian Naturino team, but is now reported to be in discussions with two foreign squads, Spain's Saunier Duval and Belgium's Unibet.com.
Saunier team boss Mauro Gianetti has revealed that he spoke to Simoni at last weekend's Tour of Lombardy, where the Italian finished as runner-up to Paolo Bettini. Having asked Simoni "to come and ride with us", Gianetti has subsequently made a concrete offer to the rider's representatives, Alex and Johnny Carera.
"We hope that he takes the offer because our team would certainly rise in quality with Gilberto in it," Gianetti told Tuttobiciweb. "The team is developing, we ended the season placed seventh in the ProTour rankings and the arrival of Gilberto would be seen as recognition of the work we have already completed."
Saunier's offer is sure to be of particular interest to the Italian as it is currently the only one that is known to have come from a ProTour team. A move to Saunier would guarantee Simoni a ride in next year's Giro, as well as other leading events.
However, the other options also look interesting, particularly the offer from Unibet.com, hitherto the MrBookmaker.com team that has already signed Baden Cooke, Gianluca Bortolami, Toni Tauler, Fabian Jeker, Juan Carlos Dominguez and, more recently, Marco Zanotti as it attempts to secure a ProTour place next season. The Belgian team are also negotiating with Vuelta stage-winner Carlos Garcia Quesada, who had also agreed to join the Sony Ericsson set-up.
"If we succeed in attracting these riders we will immediately apply for the ProTour," Unibet team manager Koen Terryn told the Belgian press. "I assume in that case we would be the favourites for the 20th and final place. I can't believe that the UCI would grant five ProTour licences to France and only two to Belgium." French team Ag2r are currently the team most widely tipped to take the ProTour place left open by Fassa Bortolo's departure.
Unibet are also in talks with sacked Bouygues Telecom rider Unai Yus, who has not yet given his commitment to an offer received from Euskaltel.
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