By Gregor Brown
Damiano Cunego couldn't have hoped for a better homecoming, winning two stages and the overall of the Coppi e Bartali stage race five days after his return from a training camp on the Spanish island of Tenerife.
"My preparation is paying off," Cunego told Cyclingnews. "Not only the time I spent at altitude, but the work I accomplished over the winter with my training and diet. I did not really expect it to go so well and now that I have it is an extra benefit for the morale."
Cunego won stages two (Faenza) and three (Serramazzoni) of the event, using his combination of climbing prowess and fast finishing. He took the race leadership after stage two, which he protected until the finish in Sassuolo two days later.
He also won the overall title in 2006. Cunego beat Vincenzo Nibali by two seconds.
This year, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) won the final stage in Sassuolo in a tight sprint over Cunego. Despite that victory, Cunego was impressed with his form against rivals that he will see in the Ardennes Classics at the end of April and the Tour de France in July.
A day after the race, Sunday (yesterday), he travelled south with Directeur Sportif Brent Copeland to preview the Giro d'Italia's Monte Petrano stage. The stage comes in the final week of the Italian Grand Tour, May 9 to 31.
"We had to check it out in the car because the weather is so bad down here, but it was good to see it because there are some hard climbs. We did the last 130 kilometres, skipping out on the flat sections.
"It will be won of the key stages thanks to all of the metres of climbing and the distance, 237 kilometres."
Cunego's next races is the Vuelta a País Vasco stage race in Spain, April 6 to 11. He will aim for a stage win or the classification if he is within reach.
Cunego will face the first of his season's goals after País Vasco, the Ardennes Classics: Amstel Gold (April 19), Flèche Wallonne (April 22) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 26). He won the Amstel Gold race last year and finished third in Flèche and 30th in Liège.