Damiano Cunego has signed with the Nippo-Vini Fantini team for the next two seasons, bringing the curtain down on his lengthy spell at Lampre. Although the 2004 Giro d’Italia winner had struggled to attract interest from WorldTour teams, his arrival marks something of a coup for Nippo-Vini Fantini, which operated as a Continental team this year but will make the step up to Pro Continental level in 2015.
News of Cunego’s signing was broken by Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday morning and later confirmed by Nippo-Vini Fantini’s new team manager, Francesco Pelosi, latterly the press officer at Luca Scinto’s Neri-Sottoli team. Pelosi told Cyclingnews that the 33-year-old Cunego will be the lone major signing this year for a team that he has likened to a “start-up” company.
“The leading light of the team will be Cunego and he will be surrounded by a lot of young riders in the team,” Pelosi told Cyclingnews.
Antonio Nibali, younger brother of Tour de France winner Vincenzo, has also signed for the team as well as two neo-professionals from the same Zalf-Fior stable that produced Cunego – climber Giacomo Berlato and fast man Nicolas Marini.
“We’re a bit of a ‘start-up’ of cycling and we’re going to do a lot of new things,” Pelosi said. “In a sense, results are secondary. Of course, they’re important and obviously we want to win races, but we also want the team to be a good promotional instrument, so communication and ethics are very important for us.”
The team started this year after Vini Fantini owner Valentino Sciotti removed his backing from Luca Scinto’s squad to merge with the Nippo-De Rosa outfit. Vini Fantini was title sponsor of Scinto’s team when Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio tested positive at the 2013 Giro d’Italia; Di Luca had been a late addition to the squad, signed at the behest of Sciotti.
Grega Bole was the team’s outstanding performer in 2014, landing four victories as well as second-place finishes at the recent Memorial Pantani and Coppa Agostoni. As well as making the step up to Pro Continental level in 2015, the team harbours ambitions of landing an invitation to the Giro d’Italia. “It would be a dream, but first of all we have to show that we deserve the trust of RCS Sport,” said Pelosi.
After spending thirteen seasons at Lampre (previously Saeco), 2015 marks Cunego’s first transfer as a professional and a major crossroads in his career. His last victory came in March of last year, a stage at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, and he has recorded just two wins over the past three seasons.
The one-time “Little Prince” has also begun to harbour thoughts about life beyond the end of his career. Earlier this week he told the Corriere del Venetothat has enrolled in the motor sciences faculty of the University of Verona.
“Encouraged by wife, who is studying medicine, I decided to begin studying,” Cunego said. “I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being a trainer in the not-too-distant future. Staying in the cycling world in a different guise is an idea I’ve had for a long time.”