In spite of slipping out of the back of the yellow jersey group on the final push to the line at Plateau de Beille, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) was in upbeat mood after stage 14 of the Tour de France.
Cunego slipped to eighth overall after losing 39 seconds to the other overall contenders, but the Italian was pleased with the way in which he limited his losses after being dropped 5 kilometres from the summit.
As he recovered from the tumult of the fearsome final climb, a relaxed Cunego told Cyclingnews that the finale at Plateau de Beille had been far tougher than Thursday's tense Pyrenean opener.
"It was harder than Luz-Ardiden, especially because all of the accumulated fatigue I have at this point," Cunego explained. "But I didn't ever lose concentration and I didn't lose so much in the end."
With Fränk and Andy Schleck accelerating and then desisting on a number of occasions on the upper section of the climb, Cunego admitted that he struggled to cope with the stop-start nature of the race. Rather than cover the moves and risk cracking, he opted to follow his own tempo once he had been dropped.
"The changes in rhythm were really very violent, and I preferred to follow my own pace because if I'd responded to all of those accelerations, it would have been worse," Cunego said. "I would have risked coming in five minutes down if I'd tried to follow those attacks, so it was better to continue regularly."
Marco Pantani was the Tour's first winner at Plateau de Beille in 1998, and while Cunego is not going to follow in his late compatriot's wheel tracks, he remains confident that he can finish inside the top 10 overall.
"We'll keep seeing as we go along, but let's hope that the others have some bad moments too, eh?" Cunego joked.
Winner of the Giro d'Italia in 2004, Cunego has never scaled such heights in the Grand Tours since. In recent years, the Italian has prioritised the Classics, but he is keen to test himself over the three weeks of this Tour de France.
"I'm just carrying on consistently, and if I keep that consistency, then I think things will improve," Cunego said. "We'll see what I can pick up as the race goes on. Today went a little bit better for the others, but we'll see in the Alps if it stays like that."
The form of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) remains a conundrum as the race exits the Pyrenees, and Cunego said that from his perspective, there were three riders stronger than the Spaniard on the Plateau de Beille.
"He [Contador] was good too, but the Schlecks and Basso impressed me more."
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