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Simoni Squanders Greatness

Two-time Giro d'Italia maglia rosa Gilberto Simoni said ciao! to his chances of winning a third title -- possibly forever -- today as he failed to win the Monte Zoncolan stage by anything close to the margin he needed to catch and pass winner-in-waiting Danilo DiLuca. And in the process, he and DiLuca may have upended the conventional wisdom when it comes to winning grand tours.

For the first 13 stages Simoni guarded his form and limited his efforts, believing that the race would be won by the rider going the best in the final week. This is something of a time-honored strategy, particularly since the grand tours often back-loadthe parcours with the race's biggest challenges. It's also a logical-enough approach for Simoni, the most natural climber among the favorites. No doubt he pictured himself the patrone of the Dolomites, flying away from his rivals. Simoni is a proud champion. Maybe a bit too proud.

Twice now he has lost a Giro by sitting back waiting for the final glorious assault that never quite materialized. In 2005, a race that featured too little of his favorite slopes, Simoni dropped 2.30 to Paolo Savoldelli in the time trials, a margin he briefly overcame in the legendary Sestriere stage until Savoldelli crawled back into the pink jersey, for good. Not a great time trialist, Simoni doesn't deserve too much criticism for his too little, too late strategy that year, though he also missed early opportunities on climbs like the Dolomiti Stars stage won by Il Falco, ceding precious seconds on the incorrect assumption he could recoup them all in the end.

This year's defeat rests more squarely on Simoni's shoulders. Losing a minute in the opening team time trial reflects more on his team, but since that time Simoni has frittered away 0:15 to DiLuca (plus bonuses) at Montevergine, another 30 seconds at Nostra Signora Della Guardia, and the win bonus at Briancon that left him over three minutes down heading into the final week. Once again Simoni spoke of the final climbs yielding chances to win back minutes, not seconds. And once again, Simoni overestimated his chances.

DiLuca gets tremendous credit for seizing the race in the opening week, revving up his team in stage 1 and working them for the 1:00, then 2:00, then 3:00 advantage DiLuca managed to build over his rivals. His classics-style of aggressive racing nabbed him three stage wins, and when DiLuca fell behind, he had the strength and determination to limit his losses sharply.

Simoni sat back and waited for the final 10 days, launching his prolific team for the first time on stage 14 to Briancon, and himself the next day. But he and DiLuca largely traded blows across the mountains. DiLuca had grabbed the jersey and wasn't going to let go. Simoni will go down as an excellent climber who excelled in the Giro, but left some victories on the table.