Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) will not ride the Tour of Lombardy and will instead finish his season at the Giro di Toscana on September 26. He had already withdrawn from consideration for the Italian team for the world championships ahead of its announcement on Tuesday. Cunego also revealed to Cyclingnews that he will skip the 2011 Giro d’Italia in order to concentrate on the classics.
“I won’t ride Lombardia because I’ve ridden an awful lot this year: the classics, the Giro and the Tour,” Cunego said. “Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to go on for another month, I’m very tired. I think it’s a mistake to take part in races when you don’t have the condition, you need to rest too.”
Cunego has endured a somewhat frustrating campaign in 2010. In spite of being present at the front end of races from February right up to last weekend’s GP de Québec, the man from Cerro Veronese has failed to register a single victory this season. The Giro di Toscana will be his final chance to chalk up a win but Cunego is already looking ahead to next season. Having learnt from the mistakes of the year gone by, he has a radical change of programme in mind.
“The classics are my main objective for next spring, and at this point in time, I don’t think I’ll ride the Giro d’Italia,” Cunego explained. “If you ride both of them, you only end up doing the two of them badly.”
“To train for the classics, I have to do a specific type of training and then a different kind for the Giro, of longer climbs and longer hours in the saddle,” he continued. “I’ve tried doing both in recent years and it hasn’t worked out. Now I know I have to do one or the other.”
“When you do the classics and the Giro, sooner or later you pay for it. Evans did the classics pretty well and the Giro too, but maybe he was lacking something there. It’s hard to do both.”
Missing out on the Worlds
As well as forgoing Lombardia, where he has already taken three victories, Cunego will also miss out on that other prestigious late-season appointment close to the hearts of all Italian cyclists, the world championships road race.
He did not figure in the squad of eleven riders announced by Italian manager Paolo Bettini on Tuesday, but Cunego explained that he had already withdrawn himself from consideration. The amount of racing days already in his legs and the relative unsuitability of the Geelong circuit meant that the 2008 silver medallist’s decision was not a difficult one.
“I spoke with Bettini at the Tre Valli Varesine and I’d already spoken to him on the phone too,” Cunego told Cyclingnews. “I said to him that I really wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get to the Worlds or the races at the end of the season in good shape because I’d ridden a lot and I was struggling for form by that point. He understood straight away because he was a rider himself and he knew I was right.”
His former Lampre teammate Alessandro Ballan was a contentious non-selection for the Worlds team and Cunego can empathise with his disappointment. “I was sitting with Alessandro on the plane to the races in Canada last week, and I know that he was looking forward to riding and he was training hard for it,” said Cunego. “I don’t want to pass judgement. Bettini is the manager and it’s clear that he had other ideas in mind for the Worlds.”
A difficult season
Looking back over his own season, Cunego feels that bad luck and a failure to manage his racing calendar combined to keep him off the podium. He suffered a crash at the Ruta del Sol in February and a bout of dysentery at the Tour of the Basque Country that left him short of training miles ahead of the classics.
Cunego’s 6th-place finish at the Amstel Gold Race was emblematic of a season where he came so close on many occasions but lacked his trademark sharpness in the finale. This was compounded by a heavy-duty racing programme that saw him line up at both the Giro, where he finished 11th, and then the Tour.
“Maybe I made an error in choosing my calendar of races and that’s cost me dearly,” Cunego said. “I was always only riding in high-level races. If I’d gone to Coppi-Bartali or the Giro del Trentino I might have been able to win two or three races and that could have changed the outcome of my season.”
By the time the Tour de France came around, although he was prominent on a number of stages, Cunego’s top-end speed was still missing. He could only manage third behind Sandy Casar on stage 9 and fourth behind Pierrick Fédrigo on stage 16 on finishes that appeared tailor-made for him.
“If I hadn’t done the Giro I might have had the freshness that would have helped me in those sprints that I lost at the Tour,” he said ruefully. “Also, if you look at the stage where I was third, I had to chase the break by myself early in the stage for a long time, and if that hadn’t been the case, I’d have gone a lot better in the finale.”
As a past winner of the Giro d’Italia, as well as a multiple classics winner, Cunego accepts that expectations surrounding him are always high, especially in his home country. “Cunego always has to win,” he said. “If another rider had placed well on stages like I did, people would have said he had done a good Tour, but I seem to be almost obliged to win. But that’s normal and I understand that.”
A fresh start in 2011?
There is little question but that Cunego was over-stretched at times this season, as he shouldered the responsibility of collecting ProTour points for Lampre on a number of different fronts. The arrival of Michele Scarponi at the revamped Lampre-ISD team has given Cunego the freedom to forgo the Giro next season and focus on the classics.
“Every team has to compete for ProTour points, and every team needs three or four riders who can divide that responsibility,” he said. “So next year, I’ll be doing the classics and then the Tour de France.”
Cunego knows Scarponi well from their time together as amateurs at Zalf-Fior and he also welcomed the arrival of Leonardo Bertagnolli. His appetite for next year has also been whetted by the addition of Roberto Damiani as directeur sportif and the squad’s new collaboration with the Mapei training centre. “It’s the kind of thing we haven’t really had access to at the team before and that’s going to be a huge help,” he said. “We’ll be starting testing soon.”
For now, Cunego is simply keen to put an end to an exasperating season and start off the next on a different footing. “There’s no point in being upset now about the season that’s past. It went how it went, basta. You just have to draw a line under it, then start again the next season and do better.”