Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) begins the Tour de France’s decisive time trial defending fifth place with just a 27-second buffer over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard), but regardless of the outcome, the Italian insisted that he will be pleased with his race.
“I knew I’d do a good Tour, but I would have settled beforehand to be in the top 10,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport, after a strong showing on l’Alpe d’Huez saw him retain his position in general classification.
In spite of a first week that seemed ideally suited to a rider of Cunego’s punchy characteristics, the man from Cerro Veronese decided to stake everything on securing a high overall placing in Paris.
“Here you have to decide – you either ride for the general classification or for stage wins,” Cunego explained. “You can’t get everything.”
A precocious Giro d’Italia winner in 2004, Cunego has never scaled such heights in the Grand Tours since. Top five finishes at the Giro in 2006 and 2007 and the white jersey in the 2006 Tour de France was the best he could manage, and Cunego’s focus turned increasingly towards the Classics in recent years. After skipping this year’s Giro, however, he arrived at the Tour fresh and motivated.
“I know that you don’t consider me capable of these things anymore and I understand that. But in my heart, I’ve always been convinced that I am a rider for the Classics and the Grand Tours,” Cunego said.
Cunego’s steady march to a high overall placing has been built largely around riding within his limits. When he struggled to follow the attacks on Plateau de Beille, he opted to sit up and follow his own rhythm to the summit. Nearing the summit of l’Alpe d’Huez, however, Cunego finally opted to put in an acceleration of his own.
“Yes, but it was the last climb of the Tour and we were close to the line, so I tried to gain something,” Cunego said.
With a scant 27 seconds in hand over Contador, and a final day time trial defeat at the Tour de Suisse still fresh in his mind, Cunego was philosophical about saving his fifth place in Grenoble on Saturday afternoon. “I can only guarantee that I’ll give my best, then we’ll see,” he said.