Italian federation back Simeoni

The Italian federation has come out in support of Filippo Simeoni after yesterday's mid-stage disput

The Italian federation has come out in support of Filippo Simeoni after yesterday’s mid-stage disput

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Domina Vacanze team manager Vincenzo Santoni and Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) president Giancarlo Ceruti have both come out in support of Filippo Simeoni after his dressing-down by Lance Armstrong on stage 18 of the Tour de France on Friday. Last night, Santoni condemned Armstrong’s conduct but was even more scathing about Mario Cipollini, who, he said, “had not wanted Simeoni in the Tour peloton.” Cipollini had apparently advised Santoni to leave Simeoni out of the Domina Vacanze Tour team after discussions with sources closes to Armstrong at the Tour de Georgia in April. Simeoni is suing Armstrong for damages of 100,000 euros after the American accused him of being “an absolute liar” in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde before the 2003 Tour. In 1999, Simeoni had told a courtroom in Ferrara, Italy, that Armstrong’s performance consultant, Michele Ferrari, had advised him to take EPO. “Yesterday Simeoni wanted to pull out of the race. We urged him to carry on,” Santoni revealed last night. “He’s a rider who make sacrifices for others but who Cipollini, who came to the Tour empty and not caring about the ream, didn’t want in the group. I wish that Cipollini would stop riding. He has made a fools of the team and the sponsor.” Santoni then hit out at T-Mobile rider Daniele Nardello, who, along with compatriots Giuseppe Guerini, Filippo Pozzato and Andrea Peron, clearly aligned himself with Armstrong. According to Simeoni, Nardello told him that he had “deserved” to be first thwarted in his breakaway bid and then berated by Armstrong. “Nardello said: ‘You’re a disgrace to cycling. People like you shouldn’t be in the Tour. You spat in the soup you’re drinking from.’ “Even worse than Armstrong’s behaviour were the insults that Simeoni suffered from various riders when he dropped back to the peloton,” Santoni fumed. “Among these was Nardello, a rider who will represent Italy at the Olympics. Simeoni is the only rider who dared to speak about doping in front of a judge. And this at a time when our country is involved in a terrible war on doping.” Simeoni’s only, meagre consolation, he claimed last night, were the words of encouragement he received from Salvatore Commesso of Saeco and Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini, plus team-mates Francesco Secchiari, Massimiliano Mori and Michele Scarponi. A further vote of confidence arrived promptly after yesterday’s stage from the Italian Cycling Federation. In a statement released last night, the FCI Giancarlo Ceruti spoke of his regret at Armstrong’s “anti-sporting gesture, which came at a time when the cycling movement was savouring his latest sporting exploit”. “We feel that it is necessary,” said Ceruti, “for our federation to comment on this episode since it’s impossible to accept an attitude which is disrespectful towards a rider like Simeoni, who has fully assumed his responsibilities, reviewing his own actions and inciting the sport to continue its efforts in the war on doping. The FCI declares its solidarity towards Simeoni and his team.” Whether the sport’s sovereign power, the UCI, also backs Simeoni against Armstrong remains to be seen. The Italian was last night left clinging to the hope that he will be vindicated by a jury in a Latina court later this autumn, if not by his colleagues in the peloton. Ironically, if he wins his defamation case against Armstrong, he will donate the majority of the damages to a charity specialising in. cancer research. “I hope that justice will be done. If it isn’t sporting justice, it will be divine,” the 32-year-old Italian told L’Equipe. “What hurt me most was to see directeur sportifs smiling at Armstrong from their team cars. I always tell the truth, I proved that in front of a judge in Italy. I assumed my responsibility and paid for it, too. “Tonight, though, I’ve realised that honesty doesn’t count. Nevertheless, when we reached the finish I noticed that a lot of people were whistling Armstrong. That must mean something. A true champion wouldn’t lower himself to do something like that. But in life, you become a champion, you’re born a lord.”