Italian insists he is still a team leader
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) says he is confident he will be cleared of wrongdoing when the Mantova-based doping inquiry goes to trial, beginning on December 10. The investigation focused primarily on the links between the Lampre team and the pharmacist Guido Nigrelli in 2008 and 2009, and Cunego is one of 28 people who have been called to trial.
The anti-doping expert Dr. Sandro Donati is understood to have compiled a report for prosecutors with Dr. Roberta Pacifici in which they analyse the evidence amassed by the Mantova investigators. In July, Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the 167-page document included the allegation that Cunego had used EPO and other prohibited substances.
“I don’t know the authors of this analysis, it’s nonsense,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’ve been waiting years for this story to clear up. Honestly, I’m tired of it, I feel like I’m being taken for a ride. But I’m also confident, because in the end, right is with those who are honest. And I am.”
Cunego was speaking on the eve of Lampre-Merida’s first training camp of the winter and in spite of a lacklustre 2013 campaign that saw him pick up just one victory, the 32-year-old is adamant that he still has what it takes to be a team leader.
“My physical preparation started going badly straightaway, between the bad weather and missed races,” Cunego said. “So I was always chasing my condition and it never arrived. I was sick a couple of times. In short, it all went wrong.
“In some races at the end of the year, I helped my teammates. It was right to do that and I was happy to do it, but my scope remains that of a captain, of a winner.”
A decade on from a Giro d’Italia victory that suggested Cunego would dominate Italian cycling for years to come, he will begin his 2014 season earlier than ever before, at the Tour de San Luis in January. Cunego dismissed the idea that he does not train with the same focus as some of his rivals and defended his decision to remain at the same team for his entire career.
“I train hard and I have witnesses too,” he laughed. “In life and in races, you listen to advice and then you take decisions yourself.
“People have complained that I’ve spent too long with Lampre. But I still feel very good here and I don’t regret it. In cycling, it’s not easy to find the ideal atmosphere, and I really like this team.”