By Gregor Brown
Damiano Cunego had a solid year but it was not until the Giro di Lombardia in mid-October that many considered 2007 a success for the 2004 Giro d'Italia Champion. The 26 year-old Italian doubled up in the 'race of the falling leaves' to give merit to his season and supply the needed confidence for the coming 2008 year.
When you've won the Giro d'Italia before your 23rd birthday, each subsequent season can be a struggle to live up to expectations created by that success. Damiano Cunego's 2004 Giro win was nothing short of spectacular, but since then he's had to be content with wins outside the grand tours and his best young rider jersey in the 2006 Tour after struggling with mononucleosis in 2005.
This year, things began to look up for the young rider from Verona. Cunego took seventh in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a position that backed up his two stage wins in the Giro del Trentino. However, it was not until the Deutschland Tour when he took first-ever win in a ProTour race with the stage to Sonthofen. A break and the subsequent build up in the Vuelta a España worked perfectly for his season finale in the world championships and the Giro di Lombardia.
However, Cunego's autumn was almost destroyed with a crash in the opening stage of the Spanish grand tour. Cunego went down in the same crash that took out American Tom Danielson in stage one, but was able to push on and show enough form to gain a spot on Italy's squadra azzurra for the worlds team. Consistent riding and a near-stage win on stage 15 to Granada reassured national selector Franco Ballerini that Cunego could be a strong team member.
"I guess you could say I was fortunate to crash on the first day of the Vuelta," he said when we spoke two days before the worlds, September 28. "I took antibiotics, and went on, having massages for my legs. My leg was really stitched up. This went on for 10 days, it was hard to judge my condition, and I think I lost a little bit. After awhile I felt a little better. I had to find a little of the condition that I had beforehand."
He noted the painful details, "I had 13 stitches - five in the knee, five on the hip and three on the elbow. It was a bit of bad luck for me at the start of the Vuelta, but this happens.
"I would say the legs are going good. I want to complete this world championships, and then after we will see."
Read the full interview with Cunego here.