After some lacklustre seasons, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) showed some of the sparkle of old at the recent Tour of the Basque, landing 6th place overall and placing consistently throughout the week. The Italian denied changing coaches and has instead credited the upturn in his fortunes partly to a return to his hometown of Verona after a year and a half in exile in Switzerland.
“Moving to Lugano had taken a lot of serenity away from me,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I missed my places and my training routes – my country, really. And my family wasn’t happened. I could feel their unease, their difficulties and that took away my calm. Adults can make a go of it, but children can’t and they suffer. So from January 1, after a year and a half in Switzerland, I moved back.”
A native of Cerro Veronese, on the outskirts of the city, Cunego now lives at the foot of the climb where he forged his victory in the junior world road race championships in 1999. “I live in Verona, right below the Torricelle. It must be destiny.”
Cunego won Amstel Gold Race in 2008 and finished 5th and 6th in the two following years, although he hasn’t been a factor in the intervening period. He lines up among the contenders on Sunday, although he acknowledged that Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) are the favourites for victory.
“Gilbert is going well. In the Basque Country, every now and then he stuck his nose out but since he wasn’t interested in the general classification, he would sit up. He’s coming here right on form,” Cunego said.
The finale of Amstel Gold Race has changed since Cunego’s victory six years ago. The finish line is no longer atop the Cauberg, but almost two kilometres after it, although the Italian believes the fundamental rule for winning the race is still the same.
“I think there’ll be fifteen riders at the foot of the Cauberg fighting it out for the win. The race will be decided there,” Cunego said. “Even though it’s a long race, you have to have a lot of patience and land just one blow in the finale.”