"I will be better in the last week," noted an exhausted Cunego on the top of Montevergine di Mercogliano. Three years ago he was standing in the same spot in a black and white striped jersey, one which he changed for the leader's Maglia Rosa on the podium only moments later. It was the rise of 'Il Piccolo Principe.'
Instead of going to the 2004 winner the stage went to the 2001 Montevergine-winner, Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas), who out-gunned Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir). Cunego trailed in one second behind in third.
"I cheated myself in the sprint," said the 25 year-old to La Gazzetta dello Sport, seemingly not caring if he won the stage or not. "I had said that they [Di Luca and Riccò] are going stronger than everyone else. I had battled two riders that I had indicated at the partenza ['start']. Unfortunately my prevision was fulfilled. In particular, to battle Di Luca is almost impossible."
Cunego now sits in sixth on the general classification, 54 seconds back on Di Luca.
"I rode to win ... I felt brilliant and so I tried. But in the sprint I was only able to stay and watch.
"It is true that the Giro is long but Di Luca and Riccò will continue to turn the screws. And don't forget about Simoni and Savoldelli, because this climb was not adapted to them.
"As far as I am concerned, I am sure that I will show my best in the third week."
Supporting Cunego is long-time advisor and Directeur Sportif Beppe Martinelli. The 2004 champion was worried when Leonardo Piepoli of Saunier Duval-Prodir started whipping up the pace on the climb but Martinelli told his charge to focus on Liquigas.
"When Piepoli attacked there was a moment of uncertainty," noted the Lampre DS. "I said to him to stay calm and control his rivals, because Liquigas was very strong and would have to react [to Piepoli].
"I think in the end the distance [seconds and bonus seconds] gained in this stage will not be enough to discourage the general classification men," Martinelli concluded.
Regarding the crash at less than 75 kilometres to go, Cunego said he was fine but his bike was worse off. "There were about sixty of use who ended up on the ground, it was like a 'strike' in a game of 'bowling,'" noted Cunego of the pile up that ended the race for Ian McLeod (Française Des Jeux). "I seriously damaged my bike and I had to change it. Now we laugh but it was very risky. On some of those roads when it rains one moment is enough to lose the entire Giro."