2002 Giro d'Italia, stage 11: Simoni wins 11th stage, Heppner retains pink jersey

CAMPITELLO MATESE, Italy (AP) — Brushing off pressure of doping suspicions, defending Giro d'Italia champion Gilberto Simoni on Thursday beat Francesco Casagrande in a two-way sprint to win the 11th, uphill, stage of the Italian race.

Simoni, of the Saeco team, edged his fellow Italian at the finish line, at 4,700 feet of altitude, completing the 140-kilometer leg (86.8-mile) in four hours, three minutes, 37 seconds.

The last 14 kilometers (8.6-miles) of the stage were uphill and were made tougher by strong winds.

Germany's Jens Heppner, of Team Telekom, finished about one minute behind the winner but retained the pink jersey of overall leader for the sixth day.

The 37-year-old German still led Casagrande by nearly three minutes and Simoni by 3:15 overall.

Simoni had learned Wednesday that he had tested positive for cocaine metabolites in a random test on the eve of the Giro del Trentino last April 24.

Simoni blamed the result on an anesthetic injection he had during dental treatment.

In an interview Thursday with Italian state television, dentist Bruno Grosselli confirmed that he treated Simoni hours before the anti-doping tests carried out by WADA, the world anti-doping agency.

Simoni was allowed to continue the Giro pending results of second tests.

"There is no anger in my victory today, but certainly I reacted to yesterday's bad day when I felt empty, and I spent hours in my hotel room looking at the ceiling,'' Simoni said.

"It's a day of great satisfaction and joy for me,'' Simoni said. "I dedicate this victory to my wife.''

Prosecutors in Trento are nevertheless investigating and three police officers questioned Simoni at his hotel late Thursday, the ANSA news agency reported.

Casagrande, captain of the Fassa Bortolo team, and Simoni broke away from a small group three kilometers from the finish and held a narrow lead on the closest pursuers to the finish line, in this resort in the Apennines mountains, in southern Italy.

Simoni always led the two-man attack and fought off Casagrande's comeback attempt in the closing meters.

Young Italian Franco Pellizzotti edged Fernando Escartin and Dario Frigo for third place, four seconds behind.

American Tyler Hamilton, of Team Tiscali, finished 42 seconds behind Simoni. Heppner was in a small group that crossed the finish line 1:02 minutes behind.

Marco Pantani, the Giro and Tour of France winner in 1998, had a gap of 8:15 minutes. He blamed a bronchitis for the bad showing which virtually dropped him out of contention for the top Giro places.

Mexican Julio Perez Cuapio and Colombian Joaquim Castelblanco attacked in the initial uphill kilometers but slipped behind when Simoni and Casagrande launched the decisive attack.

Hamilton said he was troubled by stomach cramps as he lost two places overall, to 14th, 4:26 minutes behind Heppner.

"I could have done better today. I hope to recover in the time test at Numana (Sunday), a circuit that I know very well,'' said Hamilton, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong with the U.S. Postal team.

Armstrong is not competing in the Giro to concentrate on the Tour of France.

It was Simoni's first victory in the current Giro, with nine stages left to the end of Italy's most popular race in Milan, on June 2.

Australia sprinter Robbie McEwen, winner of two Giro stages, did not start Thursday, choosing to return home, see his newborn son and prepare for the French Tour.

May 23: Top 16 results of stage 11
Benevento to Campitello Matese (140 km):

1. Gilberto Simoni, Italy, Saeco-Longoni Sport, four hours, 3 minutes, 37 seconds or 35.219 kph (21.835 mph).
2. Francesco Casagrande, Italy, Fassa Bartolo, same time.
3. Franco Pellizzotti, Italy, Alessio, 4 seconds behind.
4. Fernando Escartin, Spain, Team Coast, same time.
5. Dario Frigo, Italy, Tacconi Sport, same time.
6. Andrea Noe, Italy, Mapei, same time.
7. Joaquim Castelblanco, Colombia, Selle Italia, same time.
8. Pietro Caucchioli, Italy, Alessio, same time.
9. Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez, Spain, Kelme, 11.
10. Juan Manuel Garate, Spain, Lampre, 18.
11. Juan Ramirez, Colombia, Selle Italia, same time.
12. Georg Totschnig, Austria, Gerolsteiner, same time.
13. Paolo Savoldelli, Italy, Alexia, same time.
14. Cadel Evans, Australia, Mapei, same time.
15. Wladimir Belli, Italy, Fassa Bortolo, same time.
16. Julio Perez Cuapio, Mexico, Ceramiche Panaria, same time.

Also

19. Rik Verbrugghe, Belgium, Lotto, 42.
23. Tyler Hamilton, United States, Team Tiscali, same time.
24. Michael Boggerd, Netherlands, Rabobank, 50.
25. Wladimir Popovich, Ukraine, Landbouwkrediet, 1:02.
32. Jens Heppner, Germany, Team Telekom, same time.
65. Juan Carlos Dominguez, Spoain, Phonak, 6:07.
82. Marco Pantani, Italy, Mercatone Uno, 8:16.
127. Mario Cipollini, Italy, Acqua e Sapone, 14:00.
130. Hidenori Nodera, Japan, Team Colpack, same time.
157. Guido Trenti, United States, Acqua e Sapone, same time.

Overall standings
(After 11 of 20 stages)

1. Jens Heppner, Germany, 52 hours, 54 minutes, 27 seconds.
2. Francesco Casagrande, Italy, 2:58 minutes behind.
3. Gilberto Simoni, Italy, 3:15.
4. Paolo Savoldelli, Italy, 3:43.
5. Pietro Caucchioli, Italy, same time.
6. Fernando Escartin, Spain, 3:46.
7. Yaroslav Popovych, Ukraine, 3:50 behind.
8. Wladimir Belli, Italy, 3:55.
9. Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez, 3:58.
10. Cadel Evans, Australia, 4:03.
11. Dario Frigo, Italy, 4:04.
12. Franco Pellizzotti, Italy, 4:17.
13. Andrea Noe, Italy, 4:22.
14. Tyler Hamilton, United States, 4:26.
15. Eddy Mazzoleni, Italy, 4:43.
16. Georg Totschnig, Austria, Gerolsteiner, 4:46.

Also

18. Rik Verbrugghe, Belgium, 4:50.
20. Michael Boogerd, Netherlands, 4:56.
24. Juan Ramirez, Colombia, 5:18.
32. Joaquim Castelblanco, Colombia, 8:24.
36. Juan Carlos Dominguez, Spain, 9:48.
45. Julio Perez Cuapio, Mexico, 14:32.
56. Marco Pantani, Italy, 19:45.
101. Mario Cipollini, Italy, 46:55.
137. Guido Trenti, United States, 1:05:44.
160. Hidenori Nodera, Japan, 1:26:44.


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