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October 17, 2012
Filippo Simeoni was first – beating David Millar, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton – to confess and break the code of silence in cycling. Ten years before the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) case against Lance Armstrong, he testified in a criminal case against Michele Ferrari. The Italian cyclist admitted he doped and detailed Ferrari’s operations in 2002. Since then, he has been Lance Armstrong’s enemy number one.
Simeoni served a sporting ban because of his testimony though others kept quiet and continued to race. He recalled in his USADA testimony (pdf) in August that the Italian prosecutor said at the time, “I find it absurd that the only cyclist who pays for the use of performance-enhancing drugs is the only one who spoke.”
He kept paying. Then cycling’s star, Armstrong called him a liar in French newspaper Le Monde and on Italian TV. Simeoni lodged defamation charges, but it was no use. Armstrong chased him down and intimidated him in the 2004 Tour de France. According to Simeoni, Armstrong said, “You made a mistake when you testified against Ferrari and you made a mistake when you sued me. I have a lot of time and money and I can destroy you.” (see video)
The constant pursuit crushed Simeoni. He won the Italian Championship but was unable help his team earn an invitation to the Giro d’Italia in 2009, when the organiser invited Armstrong to race for his first, and only, time. That summer Simeoni gave up, focusing on a new life south of Rome in Sezze.
Cycling Tips: What have you been doing since retiring in 2009?
Simeoni: I opened two bars since I’ve retired. It takes up all my time, I work from 6AM to 9PM. It was better being a cyclist, at least I was doing something that I liked that I loved since I was a baby. Life has changed radically since retiring, even if I’m still always talking to the people around my area, they care a lot for me. It’s good work, though, I’m always busy with it and my babies, my nine-year and three-year-old.
CT: What was your reaction to USADA’s ruling in August and then on Wednesday (October 10) when the evidence came out?
FS: I was a little surprised, honestly. It was all the things that I knew was going on in those years, the whole group knew. The true surprise that was it came out after all these years. It took too long. They needed to do it earlier, but they didn’t. He [Armstrong] was permitted to do everything, he became a great, allow millions of people to dream and fall in love. They created and destroyed a myth. However, in all that time he was going well, no one did anything and he was untouchable. I don’t know what happened, but it all came out, everything that needed to come out. However, it’s only that a lot of years have passed. It leaves me perplexed. I’d rather have seen this in the right moment. There were the tools in place to stop him, but it wasn’t done. It’s upsetting, many people were misled.
CT: Is it better now than never?
FS: It’s important it all came out even after all these years. It shows the future generation, it’s an important message. It’s useless to mislead and lie with doping because in the end, the truth all comes out – it’s an important message for the youth. They need to understand that you can do anything in life, but any secrets will be uncovered sooner or later.
CT: Were you surprised when the USADA contacted you to testify?
FS: USADA’s lawyers came to Italy. They wanted to understand my dealings with Armstrong and Doctor Ferrari. I practically just repeated everything that I said in the 2002 hearing involving Ferrari. He was found guilty in that hearing, with a lot of evidence and testimony, but the law is what it is… Yes [I’m happy I told the truth], but I was penalised in my job, in my profession as a result, that was the biggest upset. The damage was big, both on sporting and financial level, my career was broken, ended. There were no positives [from it], only damages.
CT: Did Armstrong ruin your career?
FS: Armstrong held back my career. All I said was the truth, which was asked of me in a hearing. I was called as a witness and I said the truth in front of the judge. I never said the name Armstrong. He, defending Ferrari, who practically called me a liar. Now you know why, you see Ferrari was his mentor, his guide.
CT: How important is USADA’s case, bringing down a seven-time Tour winner?
FS: Yes, it’s an historic event, important for cycling. It practically cancels out 10 years of cycling at the international level, involving one of the biggest cycling events. A huge amount of damage has been done. For sure, it’s an historic even. Two things, it is big let down for those journalists that always wrote about him and believed, because what did they write about in all those years? Everyone lost something: journalists, cyclists… You need to look at the positive side, though. For the young riders, they see that cycling’s a sport of sacrifice and work, and you need to be honest. If you are not honest, sooner or later, you will be uncovered and pay. It’s better not to win, or win less than to be a star and go through all of this. Money is important, but you need to be able to look in the mirror and see an honest man, you need to be able to walk down the street with your head held high.
CT: USADA received testimony from 15 cyclists. Do you wish that was the case when you first testified against Ferrari in 2002?
FS: That’s another important thing. I wasn’t the only one heard in that  hearing. Several cyclists were heard, all who were found listed on Ferrari’s internal documents, but they all denied the evidence! I was the only one that said the truth, how it all worked. I paid because the others continued to say what they did over the following years.
CT: When was the last time you heard from Ferrari?
FS: The last time I saw him was in the Bologna hearing. That’s it.
CT: And Armstrong?
FS: I saw him in Milano for the start of Milano-Sanremo, when I was the Italian champion. We crossed paths, but we didn’t speak.
CT: How do you summarise him as a cyclist?
FS: Armstrong is an athlete, he has a motor, he has the legs, he’s showed that. Doping gives you something extra, but you have to have a motor. For sure, this [USADA decision] leaves a lot of doubts, but he’s impressive on an athletic level.
CT: Is Armstrong getting everything he deserves?
FS: It’s right that the truth comes out. I don’t know if it’s right that he pays now or not, because it’s late after all these years, after years of fairy tales and riding on the top of the world. It’s right that all of it came out, but it’s up to the judges to determine how he pays.
CT: You used Human growth hormone and EPO…
FS: Human growth hormone didn’t help me much, I received more benefit from using EPO. In the end, though, you understand… I arrived at a point that it didn’t matter anymore, I had my passion and saw that cycling changed. Only the elite could dope in cycling, you had to dope in a professional way, with doctors and a medical staff behind you, with organisation, otherwise you’d be caught. That came clear, it was better to go ahead and race cleanly.
CT: Italy passed its anti-doping law in December 2000. What do you mean when you said after that it was irresponsible and stupid to dope?
FS: Up until that law, when doping became a criminal offence, nothing would happen if you doped. There was no law to stop you and make you a criminal if you doped. When law came along, you knew that if you doped, and they caught you, you’d be considered as a criminal, face a criminal hearing. The controls were increased, the law was put in place, it was stupid to continue and dope.
CT: Should the Union Cycliste International (UCI) make more changes? Some called for President Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen to step down.
FS: They’ve done a lot. Thanks to the mass-media and doping fight has been a big step forward. The biological passport… The mentality changed. They understood there needed to be a change. Only that there are still some cases, some problems from the past. I think that with this Armstrong bomb, it created a chance to move forward with a new message. In Armstrong’s era, everyone knew, but no one was saying anything. Nothing. Now the proof is there, the unquestionable USADA document is there for all to see. This will help cycling re-start with credibility.
CT: Can the sport proceed with the UCI as it is?
FS: The people who helped, who knew in those years and permitted, this need to step down. We need new people, clean, who can help us re-start. In the end, they were accomplices in Armstrong’s mechanism.