Cunego ready to lead Italy's Worlds team

Italian Damiano Cunego faces his last test prior to a possible leadership role at Worlds

Damiano Cunego is ready for his chance to lead Italy's World Championship team. He starts the Vuelta a España this Saturday, his last race prior to the World Championships, September 27.

"Up until now there was Paolo Bettini and he was the guiding light. I could have been considered the penultimate man, and that was already a serious role. I can now make a step forward," Cunego told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

There are others, like World Champion Alessandro Ballan, who can also step forward into the captain's role, he said. National director Franco Ballerini will decide the team on September 14, but Cunego said it will be the race that decides the team's leader.

Cunego won the Junior World Championships 10 years ago and finished second in the elite race last year in Varese, Italy.

He is ready to accept the role if Ballerini selects him to be one of the captains of the nine-man team. "These types of responsibilities don't scare me," he said.

The 64th Vuelta a España, August 29 to September 20, starts with four stages in The Netherlands before it transfers to Spain. Cunego's mind is on a stage win and he plans to pull out before the race's end, he told Cyclingnews two weeks ago.

"I know that I have to give him [Ballerini] signals, but when you feel good they come as a consequence," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Cunego won two stages and the overall classification of the Coppi e Bartali and finished in the top 10 of all three Ardennes Classics this spring. He finished second in the Italian Championships, attacked near the end of San Sebastián and rode strongly in the Vuelta a Portugal, but is without a win in the second half of the year.

Defending champion Ballan is the only rider who's secured a position on the team. In addition, Cunego, Ivan Basso and Stefano Garzelli could be possible captains.

Italy has won the Worlds for the last three years: Bettini in 2006 and 2007, and Ballan in 2008. A team has yet to win in four consecutive years.

Mendrisio's course will be one of the hardest since 2003 in Hamilton, Canada. The circuit has two climbs, Acqua Fresca and Novazzano, in a short 13.8-kilometre circuit repeated 19 times.

Cunego raced in the 2008, 2007 and 2004 Worlds. He finished ninth when the race was near his home in Verona, in 2004. Luca Paolini was Italy's highest placed rider, in third.

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