Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) took his first victory in 17 months on Wednesday when he won stage two of the Giro di Sardegna, and the Italian dedicated the triumph to the memory of the late Aldo Sassi, who lost his battle with cancer in December.
Cunego began working with Sassi at the Mapei Centre last autumn, and he was disappointed that his coach was not able to see the fruits of their collaboration before his death.
“One day he put a hand on my shoulder and told me: ‘Try and win soon,’” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Then he added: ‘Because I don’t have a lot of time left.’ So this victory is above all for him.”
The stage to Nuoro also saw Cunego assume the overall lead, as he made the most of a sharp uphill finish on Monte Ortobene that was tailor-made for his uphill sprinting talents. He explained afterwards that he and his Lampre-ISD companions had earmarked the stage ahead of the race.
“I wanted it and we prepared for it,” Cunego said. “For the first time this year, we raced only for me, and the squad rode to perfection: first by leaving the task of managing the race to Liquigas for [Peter] Sagan, and then by attacking the climb with Scarponi.”
If Cunego benefited from Scarponi’s pace-setting on the front in the finale, his finishing sprint was all his own work. He had both the tactical nous and the strength to see off a stiff Liquigas-Cannondale challenge in the final 400 metres, as he reacted decisively when it was Eros Capecchi and not Sagan who made the first move.
“I didn’t fall into the trap when Sagan left a gap to launch his teammate Capecchi,” Cunego said. “I followed him straightaway, and then I passed him and won.”
Although 2010 was a barren season for Cunego, he insisted that his winter training this time around was broadly similar.
“Some small details have changed in my position and preparation, but it’s more or less the usual,” he said. “Maybe just a few days more at home, and a few days more of racing in the legs.”
Indeed last autumn, Cunego told Cyclingnews that his 2010 campaign would have been very different he had simply managed to take an early win. His exuberant shout of joy on crossing the line may have seemed incongruous from a former Giro d'Italia winner riding a relatively minor race in February, but it forcefully illustrated the importance getting off the mark, and Cunego will now be free to tackle the Ardennes Classics without that particular millstone around his neck.
“If I’d had to wait any longer, winning could have become an obsession,” he admitted.