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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)
Italian takes aim at Valverde and Ardennes Classics
“I’m not bad, but I feel like I still need another month of work to be at my best,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m missing a bit of rhythm and I’m not yet at my sharpest on the climbs. Besides, because of the races that have been cancelled in Italy [the Giro di Sardegna and Giro del Friuli – ed.], I have seven fewer days of racing in my legs.”
Second at the GP Lugano last week, Cunego has earmarked three stages in particular at Paris-Nice: stage 4 to Lac de Vassiviere, stage 5 to Mende and the concluding time trial on the Col d’Eze. The 2004 Giro d’Italia winner believes they will offer firm indications of his form.
“I came to this race because I’m motivated by those three finishes. I know Mende and Col d’Eze. I don’t know Lac de Vassiviere, but they’ve explained it to me. It seems quite hard. Mende intrigues me, I’m curious to see where I am compared to the others.”
In spite o the fine showing of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the opening time trial, Cunego remains convinced that Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be the man to beat. Valverde is riding Paris-Nice for the first time since his return from suspension for his links with blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Cunego finished 57 seconds down in Sunday's time trial, while Valverde surrendered just half a minute.
“I think Valverde, who has already won the Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol, will be the man to beat for the general classification. [Richie] Porte is going strongly too, and who knows what Tony Martin will be able to do on the climbs.”
While Cunego is likely to ride the Tour de France rather than the Giro d’Italia this season – “I haven’t decided everything, but at the moment, the Giro isn’t in my plans” – he admitted that he is unsure if he will be chasing stage wins or a high overall finish in July. A resurgent sixth overall last year, the 2012 route features too much time trialling for Cunego’s liking.
“I’d like to have tried to do a good GC, but for this I’d have preferred more kilometres of mountains and fewer of time trials,” he said. “Along with the team, we’ll have to study closely how to interpret this Tour.”
There are no doubts about Cunego’s objectives in April, however. After tackling the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of the Basque Country, he will aim to arrive at the Ardennes Classics on top of his game. Winner of Amstel Gold Race in 2008, Cunego is looking to inscribe another line to his palmares in late April.
“I should come out of the Tour of the Basque Country at 100 per cent for the Ardennes Classics. I want to win at least one out of Amstel, Flèche and Liège.”