Cunego takes Vuelta stage victory number two

Lampre rider makes strong case for worlds team leadership on the climb to La Pandera

The runner-up in last year's World Championships, Damiano Cunego posted a clear message that he is ready to triumph this time around when he won his second stage of the Vuelta a España on Saturday. The Lampre rider once again triumphed on a mountain top finish, this time using an early break as a springboard for his success in stage 14. He went clear early on with eight others for company, then shed his breakaway companions with less than 15 kilometres to go and powered alone up the leg-sapping wall of La Pandera.

"This victory was much harder than the first one [at Alto de Aitana] as I was in the break for a long time today," the smiling Italian said afterwards.

"Today everything went perfectly, and this beautiful victory is the result. I spoke with the sports directors beforehand and we worked out what I had to do. It was necessary to attack from far away as it would not have been so simple to battle with the top climbers; the stage was short and I prefer longer distances.

"So, yesterday I saved my energy and I dropped back in the overall classification. Today I tried several times to join the right breakaway until I got into the winning one, and then gave everything on the final climb so that this victory became reality."

Cunego was asked who he saw as the favourite for the final win in the Spanish Tour. The 27-year-old said that Valverde was the logical choice and that providing he recovers well, the Caisse d'Epargne rider could also ride strongly in the worlds.

He nominated Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) as two other threats for the Mendrisio road race, which he describes as his big focus for 2009.

"The worlds is the biggest goal of the year for me, and the Vuelta is the best preparation for that. So these victories give me a lot of confidence," he stated.

They also send a clear message to the Italian selector Franco Ballerini that he should be one of the protected riders, if not the outright captain. "The team should have two or three leaders," he said. Last year's champion Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC) is also riding the Vuelta, but his best stage placing thus far is only sixth.

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