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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for June 1, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

A King is crowned: Cunego on Italy's cycling throne

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Damiano Cunego
Photo ©: Sirotti

The name "Cunego" is derived from "Koenig", German for king and after his Giro d'Italia win at 22 years old, Damiano Cunego was coronated yesterday in Milano. Just who is Cunego, this new kid on the bike block? He's from Cerro Veronese, in the Monti Lessini 1,000m above Verona, where top cross country skiers Fulvio and Sabina Valbusa call home, as well as mountain biker Paola Pezzo.

Damiano Cunego still lives at home with his dad Enzo, mamma Anna and shares a room with his little brother Donato. Musically, Cunego loves The Doors but never fell too much under the influence of the Lizard King, Jim Morrison. "Damiano always liked sports and really focused on that," his mother Anna explained proudly after her young son took the Giro d'Italia title on Sunday.

Lessinia was one of the first settled areas in Northern Italy as Teutonic tribes found their way down the Adige River valley and moved into the fertile highlands above what is today Verona. Damiano Cunego will turn 23 on 19 September and after playing youth hockey with the Bosco Chiesanuova team from 9 to 11 years old, and running cross country, where he was 3rd in the Italian schools championship in 1995, he found he enjoyed riding his mountain bike with friends. During the summer of 1996, Cunego worked in a bakery during his summer vacation and earned enough to buy his first racing bike.

In 1997, at 15 years old, he started to race in the Gaiga-Goretex team in Verona and won 12 races his first year, including the uphill time trial on the Colle Gallo in Casazza. Cunego had the fastest time of all riders, including junior riders three years older and far more experienced.

In the Italian "allievi" (young juniors) championship, Cunego was 2nd behind Filippo Pozzato. The next year in the Junior category, Cunego took eight wins, followed by seven wins in 1999, including the Junior World Championship in Verona. After his success in Verona, Mercatone Uno director Giuseppe Martinelli had Cunego sign a "pre-contract" that would provide him with a pro deal in two years, but meanwhile, Damiano would ride in the U23 category for the prestigious Zalf Fior amateur squad. Right away, Cunego hit pay dirt, winning the tough Bassano-Montegrappa climbing race and the next year, he had three wins in the U23 category for Zalf Fior.

But Cunego didn't want to waste too much time in the amateur ranks and when his mentor Giuseppe Martinelli went to Saeco as a director, Cunego followed him and turned pro at 20 years old in January 2002. Martinelli, nicknamed "Martino", has a great nose for talent and had directed both Pantani and Garzelli to Giro d'Italia wins.

Cunego clearly has tremendous natural talent. He's 1m71cm tall and weighs 58 kilos. His resting heart rate is 44 and he has 5% body fat. His power output at anaerobic threshold is 420 watts, which gives him a world class power to weight ratio of more than seven watts per kilogram. One interesting fact about new phenom Cunego is that his natural level of haematocrit is between 52 and 53%. His father Enzo has the same levels and thus, Cunego has a special medical certificate in his rider's medical book that enables him to race with his high levels of haematocrit.

After his big Giro adventure, Damiano Cunego and his family will celebrate at home in Cerro Veronese, then relax and rest until training for the second part of the season. It's not certain at this point if he will be selected for the Athens Olympics, and Cunego may ride part of the Vuelta a España. After his 23rd birthday this September, Cunego will be looking to put on a show at the world road championships in front of his hometown tifosi in Verona on the same Torricelle circuit where he won the junior world's in 1999.

All eyes on Cunego

Praise for Damiano Cunego isn't hard to find among Italy's top cyclists, past and present. Former world champion Maurizio Fondriest added his two cents to the post-Giro euphoria surrounding Cunego's surprise victory, calling the young star a 'complete' rider.

"I followed Cunego when he was a junior," Fondriest told Datasport. "I was convinced that he was an exceptional talent, but I didn't think he would explode so soon.

"He's a complete rider, strong in both the climbs and the sprints," he added. "His move to Saeco was a good one. Martinelli has helped him grow and mature and he has a great future ahead of him."

Ukrainian rhapsody

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Gonchar happy
Photo ©: Sirotti

After his surprising runner-up spot in this year's Giro d'Italia, Ukrainian Serguei Gonchar thanked his team De Nardi for the support. "My teammates Wegelius and Pugaci were with me all day Saturday," Gonchar explained. "I was able to maintain my second place; it all went well. I wish there had been another long time trial Sunday (like the previous two editions of the Giro d'Italia) and I would have win this Giro.

"But Cunego was the strongest rider in this Giro and he'll win a lot next year..." Gonchar added. "In any case, I'm very satisfied. Between last year and this year, I've moved up four places in the Giro GC. And a lot of this is due to the staff at De Nardi. They got me to lose 3kg to improve my climbing and took care of me very well. We started the Giro with 9 riders and finished with 9 riders. That shows how good the team is. Now I want the gold medal in the time trial in Athens, and to win the world time trial championships again."

Ten years Gonchar's junior, compatriot Yaroslav Popovych expected more from his Giro d'Italia performance, but in the end, had to be satisfied with 5th, three minutes behind the last podium spot in Milano.

"Considering my difficult preparation for this Giro d'Italia, it all went well," explained Popovych. "I had a lot of bureaucratic problems with my living status in Italy and ended up stuck in the Ukraine for a month in January, then had to go back a few times to get it all straightened out.

"Cunego was really strong, but I've promised my boss Ernesto Colnago that I'll get going again soon," he insisted. "I want to have a good race in the Olympics and world championships. And I hope to beat Cunego soon. In the U23 races, I beat him often but now we're pros so things can change, but I still hope I beat him again."

The Giro wants Lance

Perhaps finding encouragement in the fact that defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong took a trip to Italy to test himself on the dreaded Mortirolo climb, incoming Giro d'Italia organiser Angelo Zomegnan issued an open call for the American to race the Giro next season.

"I think a champion like him can't consider retiring without having raced the Giro d'Italia," said Zomegnan, who has been tipped to take over the direction of the race when current Giro boss Carmine Castellano retires.

"Next year there will also be a sentimental reason to have Armstrong at the Giro," he added. "We'll be commemorating the 10th anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli. The Giro is waiting for Armstrong."

The return of Der Kaiser?

Getting serious
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

After a confidence-boosting fifth place in this weekend's TEAG Rund um die Hainleite, Jan Ullrich marked another return to form with a second place in the opening time trial of the Tour of Germany on Monday. Ullrich has spent the past five weeks training out of competition, evidently to good effect. Dogged by his usual weight problems this spring, the T-Mobile star believes his body is responding well.

"My form is getting better," he said after the stage. "The bad weight is gone, the good weight has stayed."

Ullrich also promised that he will be looking for stage wins on other occasions besides the time trial, and is eager to test himself in the climbs to come. Answering his critics who focused on his seemingly poor form in the early season, Ullrich said simply that he doesn't need to win the Tour of Mallorca if he wants to win the Tour de France.

"This went better than I expected," he said of the opening day of racing. "I'm on the right track."

Phonak for France

The Swiss Phonak Hearing Systems team has announced its rosters for two major upcoming races in France, the Classique des Alpes on Saturday and the Dauphiné Libéré stage race which begins the following day. New recruit Oscar Sevilla will take part in both events, while Phonak's top man for the Tour de France, Tyler Hamilton, will sit out the Classique des Alpes.

Classique des Alpes: Cyril Dessel, Santos Gonzalez, Bert Grabsch, José Enrique Gutierrez, Nicolas Jalabert, Oscar Pereiro, Oscar Sevilla, Johann Tschopp

Dauphiné Libéré: Cyril Dessel, Santos Gonzalez, Bert Grabsch, José Enrique Gutierrez, Tyler Hamilton, Nicolas Jalabert, Oscar Pereiro, Oscar Sevilla

15 Qualified for Wachovia Junior PCT

Five more junior riders have qualified for the fourth annual Junior Pro Cycling Tour to be held Sunday, June 6, as part of the Wachovia USPRO Championship in Philadelphia. The latest qualifiers were selected at the Tour of Connecticut. The five new 18 and under qualifiers are Kirk Carlson and Michael Wickman (Peerless/HNECC), Scott Jackson and Mike Bucuk (Watchung Wheelmen), and William Dugan (BCA/Tosk).

The top five finishers from the remaining qualifying race, the Lance Armstrong Time Trial, to be held on June 5th, will compete in the Junior Pro Cycling Tour.

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