CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Few cyclists were more bullied by Lance Armstrong than Filippo Simeoni.
The now-retired Italian rider was completely marginalized from the sport after speaking to authorities about doping. Having already branded Simeoni a liar because of his testimony, Armstrong took the unusual step of chasing the Italian down himself during a breakaway at the 2004 Tour de France and told him to fall back in line.
Even back then, many viewed it as a display of Armstrong wielding his power to make riders fall in line when it came to doping talk as well. Perhaps that's why Simeoni was so unmoved by what Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey.
"The interview did nothing for me. It's not going to help the sport," Simeoni told The Associated Press on Friday. "It was just an admission of guilt. It wasn't a confession. It leaves me indifferent, because I already knew what the situation in cycling was like in those years.
"It was like he said, it was an endemic. It was mass, mass doping and everybody knew," Simeoni added by phone from his home in Sezze, a town outside Rome where he lives with his wife and two kids and runs two coffee bars.
Simeoni was a talented young rider when his Carrera Jeans team sent him to see the now-banned physician Michele Ferrari in the mid-1990s. Ferrari, who also advised Armstrong for much of his career, instructed Simeoni how to take the banned blood booster EPO, the rider said.
"I tried to help the situation when I spoke out in Dr. Ferrari's trial. I assumed my responsibility and now everybody else should, too — the cyclists, the team directors, the physicians, the journalists — everyone."
When Ferrari was put on trial by Italian authorities for criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes, Simeoni did something unheard of back then — he confessed to doping during a February 2002 testimony and acknowledged that asterisks in Ferrari's notebooks corresponded to banned drugs prescribed to athletes.
"The most ridiculous thing was that I was banned and everyone else who testified in that trial and lied just kept racing," Simeoni said. "It was a real injustice. It was a failure of a complete system."
Armstrong began to speak out against Simeoni and the Italian responded with a defamation suit, which set up their much publicized clash at the 2004 Tour. When Simeoni attempted to join a breakaway in the 18th stage — a move that had no threat on Armstrong's overall lead — the American chased him down in the yellow jersey and ordered him to slow down by threatening to have his U.S Postal squad end the breakaway — which would have hurt the other riders with a chance to win that stage.
Left with no choice, Simeoni pulled back. Later in the stage, Armstrong put his finger to his lips in a "silence" gesture before a TV camera — although after the stage he said he was simply protecting the interests of the peloton.
"When a rider like me brushed up against a cyclist of his caliber, his fame and his worth — when I clashed with the boss — all doors were closed to me," Simeoni said. "I was humiliated, offended, and marginalized for the rest of my career. Only I know what that feels like. It's difficult to explain.
"The only reason I kept going was due to my tenacious personality." Ferrari was eventually cleared on appeal in 2006. But he was barred for life by the Italian Cycling Federation under a 2002 ruling. Armstrong maintains that Ferrari was his trainer until 2004, and Ferrari's name was mentioned throughout the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's report which led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. The report detailed payments of more than $1 million by Armstrong to a Swiss company controlled by the physician, known as Health & Performance SA.
USADA also barred Ferrari for life in July. In the interview with Winfrey, Ferrari was one of the few people Armstrong mentioned. "It's hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names," Armstrong said. "There are people in this story, they're good people and we've all made mistakes ... they're not monsters, not toxic and not evil, and I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man and smart man and still do."
Simeoni had a similar comment. "All these people are good people," the Italian said. "Nobody is a delinquent. Personally, I don't have anything against Ferrari. But when the judge asked me under oath I just replied by telling things exactly as they were."
Armstrong got in Simeoni's way again when he came out of retirement and entered the Giro d'Italia for the first time in 2009, with an appearance fee reportedly close to $1 million. Simeoni had won the Italian championship the year before with a surprise victory but his small Ceramica Flaminia team was denied entry to the Giro, an unprecedented move for a squad containing the Italian champion.
Simeoni responded by publicly renouncing his Tricolor jersey at the Italian cycling federation's offices in Rome. "I told them, 'If you don't let the Italian champion race in the biggest race in Italy forget about it, you can keep this jersey,'" Simeoni said. "And they had the nerve to suspend me."
Simeoni isn't expecting a personal apology from Armstrong. "I don't think he'll ever do that," Simeoni said. "This confession is just part of his scheme to regain his image. It's all totally calculated."