The 34-year-old Nippo Vini Fantini rider won the 2004 Giro d'Italia, taking three stages along the way but he had not since been on the Giro d'Italia podium until yesterday. Cunego won Il Lombardia three times and the Amstel Gold Race in 2008; he also won the white best young rider jersey at the 2006 Tour de France but had struggled in recent years. Last year, Cunego crashed out of the Giro d'Italia, fracturing his collarbone.
Cunego took the blue jersey by jumping away on the second categorised climb of the day. He scored seven points and so took the jersey from Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo).
"It was a bit emotional to be back on the podium. It's been a while. Nothing seems to have changed in the podium protocol but it all seemed new to me because its been so long since I last pulled on a jersey at the Giro d'Italia. It's always gratifying, after months of work, to pull on a jersey. I think any rider would be happy. It's always special to climb on the podium," Cunego admitted to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It's a special moment because it brought back all the good times from the past. My form is pretty good and my attack went pretty well. It's only a pity that I didn't manage to stay with the attackers but Ulissi raced it well and deserved to win. I haven't won a race since 2013 and I miss that special feeling of when you cross the line first I've gone close several times."
Cunego promised to try to defend the jersey but Nicola Boem of Bardiani-CSF is also on seven points and the only categorised climb of the day is after 36km.
"I hope to keep the jersey for a while and continue to race well. I'm not an overall contender anymore and so I'm targeting stage victories and other classifications. I think there are plenty of occasions for me and even on the stage to Benevento, the break could go," Cunego said.
"We've studied the stage, there's a chance of winning it but we've got to think about the mountain sprints. It's difficult to predict what will happen today."
Cunego spent much of his career with the Lampre team but seems to have revived his career after moving to Nippo Vini Fantini.
"I'm happy to be part of the Nippo Vini Fantini team. If I stayed where I was (Lampre-Merida), I'd have quit," he said bluntly. "Now I've got two more years ahead of me to enjoy and gets some results. I feel I've still got something to give."