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Cunego fearful of the six major climbs as he tries to defend Giro's climber’s jersey

Damiano Cunego (Nippo Vini Fantini) is the leader of mountain’s competition at the Giro d'Italia and is determined to defend the blue jersey during Saturday's spectacular stage in the Dolomites.

The Italian won the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and was affectionately nicknamed the 'Piccolo Principe – Little Prince' after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's popular book.

After an often difficult voyage of discovery and maturity since his early success, Cunego is enjoying a renaissance at Nippo Vini Fantini this season. He had not been on the Giro d'Italia podium for a decade before taking the blue jersey but seems to be enjoying himself again, despite suffering as he chases every mountain point on offer.

"I've got a lot on my plate, with the jersey and trying to win a stage, it means a lot of hard racing but I'm enjoying it all. It's good to be back," he told Cyclingnews.

"I've kept the jersey but it's getting harder as we go more and more into the big mountain stages and other riders decide to go the climber's competition. The stage in the Dolomites is a big day, with lots of points up for grabs on the six climbs. I can perhaps lose the jersey but I'll keep fighting."

Stage 14 from Alpago to Corvara has rightly been described as the Queen stage of this year's Giro d'Italia. It will be the most spectacular stage of the race and also one of the hardest, with six major climbs packed into the final 120km of the 210km stage.

The stage follows much of the route of the Maratona dles Dolomites Gran Fondo, which this year celebrates its 30th year by hosting the Giro d'Italia. The route includes the Passo Pordoi, the Passo Sella, Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo, the Passo Giau and the Passo Valparola before the descent to the finish in Corvara, all surrounded by the unique rocky peaks of the Dolomites.

Cunego knows the climbs well after racing them many times during his 14-year career.

"It'll be a very different day the first mountain stage in the Friuli hills. They were relatively short and steep, the big climbs in the Dolomites are the 'real' climbs, stuff of the Giro d'Italia, and it's only right to consider it the Queen stage of this year's Giro. It's going to be a big day out," he warned.

"I've got to get over them if I want to keep the jersey but so too does everyone else. I think everyone will afraid of the six big climbs."

"It's a difficult to predict what will happen, there could be another aggressive break of riders trying to win he stage, riders chasing points for this jersey and then the fight for the maglia rosa too. For sure the stage will shake up the race."

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