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An interview with Damiano Cunego, October 19, 2008

Cunego crowns season with third Lombardia win

Damiano Cunego, 27, silenced the critics' rumblings and capped off a successful season with his third career victory in the Giro di Lombardia. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Como, Italy, to talk with the Italian after his solo victory along the famed waterfront.

Cunego was jubilant
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Cunego's season was near perfect and only marred slightly by his performance in the Tour de France. He expected more from himself in the French Grand Tour after skipping the Giro d'Italia, a race he won at the ripe age of 22. His Tour performance easily washed away critics' memories of his performances in one-day races.

Before Cunego stormed the shores of Como solo – adding to his 2004 and 2007 victories in the same spot – he won the Amstel Gold, two Spanish races and finished runner-up to his teammate at the World Championships. It was a stunning season for the rider referred to as "Il Piccolo Principe" from Verona.

Lombardia

Not only did Cunego win Lombardia, but he did it in a fashion that oozed class. Team Lampre worked all day for its captain with World Champion Alessandro Ballan leading the affairs. Cunego did not fail when it came time for his share of the work.

He followed the key moves on Madonna del Ghisallo and escaped with three others on Civiglio. Instead of riding out the final 16 kilometres in the move, Cunego went solo shortly after the summit.

"This is only the second time that I won solo," recalled Cunego of his 15-kilometre move – the first came four years ago with a stage win in the Giro d'Italia. "It feels great!

"The only thing that did not go well was the Tour de France this year. I did not train how I wanted to..."

-Damiano Cunego is otherwise very content with his 2008 season..

"It was difficult because I knew they were not far away. I had some doubts in the final, but I was the head of affairs. I left the 'bigs' on Civiglio and I held my own on San Fermo."

Cunego's advantage grew from nine seconds after the descent of Civiglio to 24 seconds at the top of San Fermo – at the finish it was 24 seconds. He allowed himself to enjoy the moment in the final kilometres.

 

"It has been a long time since I finished solo [winning]. In the last kilometre, I felt very secure of myself and I was taking in all of the public's applause."

Blowing kisses across the line
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Only three weeks had passed since he took silver at the World Championships in Varese. He dutifully watched the others scramble as his Italian teammate, Ballan, escaped clear for the rainbow jersey.

"To win would have been great, but that is the way cycling goes and a silver medal is still very important. I am happy all the same because my teammate won. If another country had won then it would have left a bitter taste in my mouth."

One-day stature

The season finale, with Worlds and Lombardia, backed up his spring performances. Winning Amstel Gold and Lombardia in the same year, and finishing on the podium in other big one-day races has cemented his stature as a one-day rider.

"I won two Classics, third at Flèche Wallonne, second at Worlds. It was too bad that Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a bit of an off day, but that is just the way it went. I suffered from the heat that day.

"The critics came out when I rode badly, but I kept my head throughout the year. Both Alessandro [Ballan] and I are athletes that go all year round. Everyone races in their own way and I prefer to race this way. ... The season was very good for me.

"The only thing that did not go well was the Tour de France this year. I did not train how I wanted to for the Tour de France."

Going for another Grand Tour

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) climbed very well
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Cunego has not given up on winning another Grand Tour. He confirmed that he will return to the Giro d'Italia five years after his 2004 win. In 2008, he skipped it in favour of the Tour de France.

"I will enjoy this moment now and I will plan next year soon. I will ride the Giro; it is justifiable with it being the 100th anniversary."

He thought about the new faces that emerged in today's finale – Visconti, Nibali, Possoni – and then looked back on the four years since his Giro Grand Tour win and his first Lombardia victory. Back in 2004's edition, he battled Michael Boogard, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans for the win.

"There are some changes; it is good to see a change of guard over the years – some new faces. ... You could say I was unlucky to win too soon in my career, but slowly I have had my space to grow and have had some good wins. I matured as an athlete and much more."

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