Damiano Cunego has ended months of speculation by confirming that he will continue to ride in Lampre colours next season. In the wake of Friday’s announcement that Ukraine company ISD will co-sponsor the squad from 2011, Cunego revealed to La Gazzetta dello Sport that he has signed a two-year contract to ride for the team.
Roberto Damiani will join the revamped Lampre-ISD outfit as sporting director and the squad will also collaborate closely with the Mapei Sport Research Centre at Castellanza under the stewardship of Aldo Sassi. Such changes appear to have tipped the balance and persuaded Cunego to stay at the team.
“I was proposed a new project that impressed me straightaway,” Cunego told La Gazzetta. “I also took into consideration my relationship with (team manager) Beppe Saronni and (Lampre owners) the Galbusera family, as they have been with me in good times and bad.”
The Verona native did admit that it took quite some time to reach a decision. “For me, these have been days of reflection. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we were talking about the most important decision of my career, I had never been at such a crossroads before,” Cunego said. “I had thought of leaving Lampre because I’ve reached a point at which I feel the need for new stimulus, for novelty, for something different.”
Cunego had no shortage of suitors in the peloton, with Liquigas, Astana and Geox among his possible destinations. In an interesting signal of the team’s intentions, however, it was Vacansoleil who made the largest financial offer to Cunego. The Dutch team ultimately signed the controversial Riccardo Riccò last week.
In any case, Cunego confessed to being pleased to have received such offers in spite of “a season that isn’t going as I had hoped.” The former Giro d’Italia winner is still without a victory in 2010, although he has been competitive all season long. “I’ve always been up there, right from February. I raced the classics, the Giro and the Tour. I attacked and came close to winning stages. On Tuesdays I finished 5th at the Tre Valli Varesine. Let’s count the placings,” he said wistfully.
“I should have won a race immediately. Even if it wasn’t an important one, I’m convinced that everything would have been different.” Cunego explained. “It would have given me that pinch of salt that I needed.”
It will be the task of new sporting director Roberto Damiani to help Cunego convert these placings into victories. “He made a great impression on me,” Cunego said. “He’s the right person to help me get back to my true level.” Lampre have already signed Michele Scarponi to spearhead the team's attack on the general classification at the Giro d'Italia, so it is possible that 2011 will see Cunego focus more fully on one-day racing.
Cunego is also enthusiastic about the prospect of working at the Mapei Centre. The state of the art facility has not been used en-masse by a top-level team since Mapei left the peloton at the end of 2002, but individuals such as Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans have availed of the testing of Dr. Aldo Sassi in recent years.
“As a junior, with the national team, I went there to do testing. It’s one of the most famous centres,” said Cunego, who was junior world champion in 1999. “All in all, it seems that everything that can help me look to the future with confidence and get back winning is in place around me now.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.