Damiano Cunego will begin training for the 2011 season on Monday, with the hilly classics his only major objective after finally deciding to give up chasing success in major stage races.
Cunego won the 2004 Giro d’Italia when he was only 22. He has since won the Tour of Lombardy three times and the Amstel Gold in 2008 but has always struggled to be competitive in the Giro and the Tour de France.
He has chosen to stay with the Lampre team for 2011 but after teaming up with new directeur sportif Roberto Damiani and new coach Aldo Sassi, he has finally accepted that he has to sacrifice his overall chances in the Giro d’Italia if he hopes to win the major one-day classics. Lampre has signed Michele Scarponi to target the Giro d'Italia in 2011.
“If it was up to me I’d do everything but the level is so high now that you’re forced to chose,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“You can’t target both the classics and the Giro. Perhaps I can do the classics and the Tour but riding both the Giro and then the Tour finished me off this year.”
“I can’t miss out on the classics because I’ve got to go for the win in races like Amstel, Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I’ll exclude the Tour of Flanders from the list but perhaps include Milan-San Remo and ride it aggressively, and of course the Tour of Lombardy, because sooner or later I’ve got to win it a fourth time.”
Cunego wasn’t part of the Italian team for the world championships and ended his 2010 season early, without having won a single race. His best result was second behind Cadel Evans on the stage of the Giro to Montalcino over the dirt roads. He also took third on stage nine of the Tour de France and was fifth at Fleche-Wallonne.
“I’ve thought about the season a lot but I want to make one thing clear: I still know how to win,” he insisted. “I ended the season early because I was physically and mentally tired. But I’ll start training on Monday.”
No longer the Little Prince
Now 29 and no longer the ‘Little Prince’ of Italian cycling, Cunego is about to begin a new phase in his career, while staying with the Lampre team.
The changes will occur around him, with Damiani in the team car and Sassi offering new ideas on training and coaching.
“Some athletes, especially in soccer, stay loyal to a team. Despite my difficult 2010 I had offers from Liquigas, Saxo Bank, and Astana. I was grateful for their support but changing the jersey isn’t the solution,” he explained.
“I decided to stay because the arrival of Damiani is motivating, working with the Centro Mapei is a guarantee and I wanted to thank the Galbusera family (who own the Lampre company) for always supporting me.”
“All I need is some tranquillity and good luck, and then the results will come. I haven’t spoken to Damiani a lot but we quickly understood each other. I like the way he does things, his optimism and his ability to motivate everybody, not only his team leaders.”
“So far I’ve done two tests at the Centro Mapei. Sassi’s very good technically and he’s an example for everyone the way he’s living his life despite his illness. There are few people like him.”
“I’m curious about working with him. You never stop learning. I hope to improve some things, for example with my time trial position, where my physique plays against me.”
Sassi will also work with Riccardo Riccò but it is a not a problem for Cunego.
“It made me think that if everyone wants to work with him, then he must be good. Riccò is just a rival like everyone else even if there’s a lot of talk about what he did.”