With David Millar already on the way, Saunier Duval stepped up their recruitment drive today by secu
PIC BY TIM DE WAELE After a week of intense speculation about his future, Gilberto Simoni this morning announced that he will ride for the Saunier Duval team in 2006. At a press conference in Milan on Friday, the 34-year-old former Giro d’Italia winner confirmed that he had signed a one-year contract with an option for a further season with the Spanish ProTour outfit. Simoni said that he “would like to end my career in 2007 and end it with this team.” Saunier Duval beat off some stiff competition to sign the veteran Italian. Since Giancarlo Ferretti’s proposed Sony Ericsson team and with it Simoni’s agreement to ride with him collapsed last week, a host of teams had been linked with the 2001 and 2003 Giro winner. Simoni’s agents Alex and Johnny Carera this morning revealed that the Naturino Sapore di Mare, Acqua e Sapone, LPR and Quick Step-Innergetic teams had all approached them with a view to luring Simoni. The Careras also confirmed that contact had been made between Simoni and Bjarne Riis’s CSC team, as reported on procycling earlier this week. A CSC source said this morning that Simoni had approached Riis at the ProTour gala dinner in Como after last week’s Tour of Lombardy, in which Simoni finished runner-up to Paolo Bettini. Simoni apparently sought out Riis to make a come-and-get-me plea to the CSC supremo. Riis, however, told Simoni that a combination of financial constraints and a possible conflict of interests with team leader Ivan Basso meant that he could not oblige with the offer of a contract. This version of events contrasts with what Simoni and Careras told journalists this morning. According to them, it was Basso himself who made the first move and approached Simoni at the Como event last Saturday. “After the race, at the UCI gala, Ivan went to see Gilberto and told him that he would very much like to have him as a team-mate at CSC,” Johnny Carera explained. “Ivan said to him: ‘I still don’t know whether I’ll ride both the Giro and the Tour but, if I don’t ride the Giro, I’d like to have a team-mate like you who could compete there at a high level then support me at the Tour.” Simoni claimed that he had been “very flattered” by Basso’s words but that he was “happy with how things have panned out.” The Italian added that the prospect of returning under the wing of Pietro Algeri, his former mentor at Lampre, had been among the reasons for him opting for Saunier Duval. Simoni also admitted that his cohabitaion with Damiano Cunego at Lampre had become untenable. “I’m not blaming anyone: [Lampre’s Giuseppe] Martinelli is an excellent directeur sportif and Damiano is a young rider who will go on to great things, but when you get off on the wrong foot there’s no way back,” Simoni said.