Cunego to retire after 2018 Giro d'Italia

2004 Giro winner's Nippo-Vini Fantini team hoping for wildcard berth

Damiano Cunego has announced that he plans to retire after the 2018 Giro d'Italia, bringing the curtain down on a professional career that yielded victory in the race as a 22-year-old in 2004.

Cunego's Nippo-Vini Fantini team has still to secure a wildcard berth for next year's Giro – having failed to earn an invitation in 2017 – meaning that he might yet be denied a grand send-off at the corsa rosa. The 36-year-old confirmed to La Gazzetta dello Sport that, regardless of whether he makes it to the Giro, 2018 will be his final season in the peloton.

"The Giro d'Italia is the race that made me known, the race I won in 2004, and the race that made me happiest. I want to participate in it next year, finish it, and then say enough with racing," Cunego told La Gazzetta.

"With the passing of time, I note that cycling is being raced at an ever higher level, and I don't feel as competitive anymore. In short, the moment to stop is coming, and I'd like to do it at the Giro, where, in a certain sense, everything started."

Early success

Junior world champion on home roads in Verona in 1999, Cunego turned professional with Saeco in 2002 and quickly announced himself as Italian cycling’s most exciting new talent. He won the 2004 Giro after a tumultuous internecine struggle with teammate Gilberto Simoni, and capped a sparkling campaign by claiming the Tour of Lombardy.

Cunego would never scale such heights again in Grand Tours, although he was best young rider at the 2006 Tour de France and placed in the top ten of the Giro on three further occasions. His best spell in one-day races came at the end of the last decade, when he won two further editions of the Tour of Lombardy (2007 and 2008), Amstel Gold Race (2008) and claimed silver behind teammate Alessandro Ballan at the 2008 Worlds in Varese.

Cunego spent the bulk of his career in the Lampre set-up, placing 6th at the 2011 Tour, before dropping down to Pro Continental level with Nippo-Vini Fantini in 2015. Since joining the team, he has combined racing with studying sports science at the University of Verona. Cunego won the king of the mountains prize at the 2016 Giro, and this summer claimed his first victory in over four years when he won a stage of the Tour of Qinghai Lake.

"It wasn't a big race, but to win, you still have to be going strongly. I showed that I could still do it, and I repaid the trust of my teammates and the team," said Cunego, who added that he will remain a part of the Nippo-Vini Fantini team in retirement. "I'll be a guide for young riders, an ambassador, and not only that."

Wildcard

Although Cunego plans to bring the curtain down on his cycling career when the Giro reaches Rome for its final stage on May 27 next year, his Nippo-Vini Fantini team must still secure an invitation to the race.

RCS Sport will announce the route in Milan on November 29, with the wildcard invitations due to be revealed in early January. With the 2018 Giro set to start from Jerusalem, Israel Cycling Academy seems a certainty to claim one of the four places on offer, while Androni Giocattoli's victory in the season-long Coppa Italia standings has seemingly secured its ticket for the Giro.

Nippo-Vini Fantini will likely contend with Bardiani-CSF, Wilier, Gazprom-Rusvelo and CCC-Sprandi for the two remaining wildcard places.

Cunego said that he had no specific alternative final race in mind should Nippo-Vini Fantini fail to receive an invitation. "I haven't thought about it. Perhaps it could be in Japan. But for now, I only want to concentrate on this prospect of the Giro, and I hope it happens."

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