The last year has been a lean one for Damiano Cunego - the Italian took one victory in 2012. His 2013 began well with the mountains classification at Tirreno-Adriatico and a stage of Settimana Coppi-Bartali. Cunego has struggled to match the success of his early career, but he remains confident the his best years haven’t passed him yet. Cyclingnews HD spoke to the Lampre rider, ahead of his Ardennes Classics campaign.
CNHD: How are you feeling ahead of the Ardennes Classics?
Cunego: I'm quite satisfied, I can face the Ardennes Classics with optimism. I set my training, for the early part of the season with the
support of Michele Bartoli, who is a former cycling champion and current advisor of Lampre-Merida. During Tirreno-Adriatico I xould see that my condition was increasing and that there was still a margin for improving it. Then, in Coppi e Bartali, I got a victory and I was second in the overall classification. These results showed me that I'm on the proper route towards the Ardennes classics and that I can rely on many strong team mates.
CNHD: What do you think you can achieve at the races?
Cunego: Obviously, I'd like to hit the bigger target, maybe in the race I like the most, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. But it's very difficult to tell what I'll be able to do. All that I can do now is doing training and races in the best possible way.
CNHD: You’ve been close to winning them on a couple of occasions. Can you win another of the Ardennes classics?
Cunego: I won Amstel Gold Race in 2008. In the past year, because of a crash on Cauberg, I missed a very good chance to try to get to the double. In my career, I’ve got to the podium both in Flèche Wallonne and in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so I can say that now I'm quite experienced in these races. As I said before, my dream is to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but unfortunately this is a common dream for many riders.
CNHD: Who do you think will be your toughest rivals?
Cunego: [Philippe] Gilbert is the main rival. He always demonstrates that when his shape is good and he's determined, he can win every race. In addition, I will pay attention to the Spanish opponents: [Alberto] Contador, [Alejandro] Valverde and Samuel Sanchez could be very dangerous. Finally, don't forget [Peter] Sagan.
CNHD: You recently won the mountain’s classification at Tirreno-Adriatico, what did that mean to you?
Cunego: It was a satisfying reward after some days of pure efforts. I pedalled in long breakaways on demanding courses in bad weather. It was not so simple, but it showed me that I could be competitive. The mountain's classification jersey was a spur to go on with the target of the Ardennes Classics.
CNHD: What are your thoughts on your season so far, compared with the last couple of seasons?
Cunego: I have raced only a few days, selecting the appointments that could allow me to improve my condition. Despite this decrease of days of race, I’ve already won and this is important for the morale. I'm quite satisfied, but I could make an evaluation of my early part of the season only after Vuelta a País Vasco and Ardennes Classics. These are my targets for this part of the season and so I think I could make an evaluation after I have raced these competitions.
CNHD: Do you think you are at the best form you’ve been in some time?
Cunego: It's difficult to say, but I what I can say is that I'm riding well. I feel that I'm competitive and so I can be satisfied about the situation. I hope I could be at the best form in the week of the Ardennes.
CNHD: Can you get back to your best or are you best days behind you?
Cunego: When I'll think the best days have gone, I'll stop cycling! I always think I can still do very good things, it's an important spur for me to have top level target and I do every day my best to get to these targets.
CNHD: The Giro is in a couple of months. What would you like to achieve at the race?
Cunego: In my program of races for 2013 there is no Giro d'Italia. I decided this at the beginning of the season, after having talked to the team technical staff. It's always hard to be at the top for the Ardennes Classics and then being competitive in Giro. So, for this year, I'd prefer to take part in Tour de France.
CNHD: What do you think Lampre’s chances are at the Giro?
Cunego: Lampre-Merida will be able to rely on Michele Scarponi, who won the Giro in 2011, and Diego Ulissi, who's demonstrating race by race that he's close to becoming a top cyclist. Also, [Filippo] Pozzato and [Roberto] Ferrari will try to win stages, so no doubt that my team could be protagonist in Giro d'Italia.
CNHD: What are your aims for the rest of the season?
CNHD: One victory in Tour de France, the World Championships in Florence and obtaining as many points as possible UCI WorldTour. I think that would be enough.
This week’s issue features in depth coverage and stunning photography from Fabian Cancellara’s third victory at Paris-Roubaix. We talk to the man he beat to the title, Blanco’s Sep Vanmarcke. We also take a look back at the action from Scheldeprijs and the Vuelta a País Vasco. Plus full previews of the Amstel Gold race and Flèche Wallonne, can Philippe Gilbert take back his titles?
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