Damiano Cunego is ready to lead team Italy at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. His win in the Vuelta a España's stage to Alto de Aitana Sunday boosted his confidence and reassured his role as the team leader.
"It came at the right time. More so for me, my confidence, but also for the Italian team ahead of the World Championships. It gives 100 percent security that I will be one of the Italian leaders," Cunego (Team Lampre-NGC) told Cyclingnews.
Italy's national director Franco Ballerini had Cunego marked as team leader since his second place in last year's Worlds. This year's course is suited to his style, more climbing and a shorter circuit of 13.8 kilometres.
Prior to the Vuelta, Cunego only won a stage and the overall of the Coppi e Bartali stage race this year. He placed in the top ten of all three Ardennes Classics, but failed to win.
His victory Sunday at the Vuelta came in front of some dangerous rivals, such as Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans, Samuel Sánchez and Ivan Basso. Moreover, it was his first win in five years at a Grand Tour, since he succeded in Bormio and eventually took the overall 2004 Giro d'Italia.
"It was very important because it was a long time since I had won in a Grand Tour," he continued. "It gives me a lot more confidence. To go to the Worlds with a win is good for the confidence. I would have gone the same, but this changes it all."
The World road race is in two weeks, September 27. The circuit travels south of Mendrisio and features two climbs, Acqua Fresca and Novazzano. It's repeated 19 times for 262.2 kilometres and 4655 metres of climbing.
Cunego is following some of his potential rivals at the Vuelta a España. He noted Spaniards Valverde and Sánchez, Australia's Simon Gerrans, but also the absence of the Luxembourg's Schleck brothers, Fränk and Andy.
"The Schlecks have both gone home and that's too bad. I hope Andy is back and training well for the Worlds, I don't wish bad luck on him even if he is a favourite to win."
Andy left the Vuelta with stomach cramps and Fränk abandoned to have knee surgery, scheduled for today. Fränk will miss the World Championships and has ended his season.
Cunego's goal at the Vuelta was to prepare for the Worlds and win a stage. He is relaxed heading into the next three mountain stages since he's already achieved his goal, he said. He will decide after Sunday's stage to La Pandera when he will leave the Spanish Grand Tour.
Ballerini will select Italy's nine-man team (and two reserves) Monday. He should nominate Basso, defending champion Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozzato as team leaders along with Cunego.
Follow Cyclingnews on Twitter for the very latest coverage of events taking place in the cycling world - twitter.com/cyclingnewsfeed