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An interview with Damiano Cunego, April 18, 2009
Cunego returns for Ardennes rush
Damiano Cunego returns to Northern Europe this week to defend his Amstel Gold title and fight for the other two prestigious Ardennes Classics missing from his race palmarès: Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Lampre-NGC rider spoke with Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown about the favourites for these three one-day races and why he's one.
Damiano Cunego has been more of a one-day rider than Grand Tour rider in recent years, thanks to his third victory in the Giro di Lombardia and his first Amstel Gold win last year. Add in a silver medal behind teammate Alessandro Ballan's gold at the World Championship and you start to think that the Lampre-NGC rider's call is at the one-day, high-pressure battles.
The Italian grabbed his first and only Grand Tour win in 2004 at the Giro d'Italia. After several years focusing on a repeat, he concentrated on the Tour de France last year. This year he returns to race his home tour, and an Ardennes Classic win could provide the mental boost he needs.
Cyclingnews: You face a bit of a double-edged sword: If you win a Classic this week they will say you are not cut out for the Grand Tours and if you lose, well, you lose.
This year I've decided to skip the Tour de France to focus on the Classics, Giro and then the World Championship.
CN: You finished racing at the País Vasco stage race last weekend, what have you done this last week for training?
CN: It is your eighth year as a professional. How is this Spring going compared to the others?
CN: Last year going into the Classics you took a stage win in País Vasco. Did you need a win there for your confidence this year?
CN: What did you learn in Spain that you can apply to the Ardennes Classics?
The other riders are going strong, from Fränk Schleck to Cadel Evans. I can tell you that they will be some dangerous rivals. I saw that they are motivated and I know that I will have some strong rivals trying to hold me back from my win.
CN: You saw first-hand the strength of Alberto Contador. Do you consider yourself lucky that he is not racing in the Ardennes and that he does not focus on one-day races?
CN: What are your goals for the Ardennes?
CN: You have only raced Amstel Gold once and won, but how familiar are you with these northern races?
I will approach them more or less the same as last year in terms of preparation, but this year I am doing the Giro d'Italia and not the Tour de France. I don't believe that since I did not win last year in Flèche and Liège that I need to do something different this year. If one can win Amstel, then they are near the target for the others.
Maybe I paid in Liège last year due to the heat, but who knows. I hope not to make any of the errors I made last year.
CN: You mentioned Schleck and Evans were going strong in Spain. Can we expect them to be favourites? Who will be the other strong riders for these Classics?
They are always at the front every year and there to battle for the win, above all for Amstel and Liège. We saw Kim Kirchen going strong last year in Flèche, but this year he is suffering from a little bit of bad luck. There are always a few outsiders for Flèche, maybe a rider like Vincenzo Nibali."
CN: The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) investigated Valverde and he might face a two-year ban in Italy, which will be decided on May 11. Is it right that he is racing in these races?