Italian Damiano Cunego, winner of the 2006 Tour de France young rider competition, has given himself modest goals leading into the 2008 edition. The 26 year-old of Team Lampre will start La Grande Boucle, July 5, with the idea of a stage win and a podium spot by the time the race arrives in Paris, July 27.
However, 'Il Piccolo Principe' has proven he is on track in 2008 by winning a stage in País Vasco, Klasika Primavera and, above all, Classic Amstel Gold Race, all the while skipping his home Grand Tour to focus solely on the French race. Following the Ardennes Classics and a rest, he has come back to finish fourth overall in the Tour de Suisse – a good sign for the French tour.
"I had not raced since Liège [-Bastogne-Liège] before coming here," explained Cunego to La Gazzetta dello Sport of the first mountain stage in Switzerland. "I had only one day of racing in my legs, the Memorial Pantani. It was normal that I was a little more brilliant at the start and that the lack of competition cost me in the stages further in." On the stage to Caslano, stage five, he lost time to the favourites. "If someone like me is pointing for the Tour, you can not already be in form to fight every day at an elevated rhythm. I knew that I would have a slight problem."
He will race once more before travelling to Brest and the Tour's Grand Départ. "My condition has become better here in Switzerland and there is not much more to do. I will train at home and Sunday I will participate in the Italian Championships; this will be good because it would certainly be a pity not to contest another race leading up to the Tour."
Cunego agrees with the bookies, that Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto will be the man to beat in the Tour de France. "Then there is [Alejandro] Valverde. Without Astana, however, there will not be a leading team." Regarding Team CSC's captain being Carlos Sastre and not Fränk or Andy Schleck, he added, "They say it this way, but it is not always all true. We'll see."