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Posts tagged ‘Damiano Cunego’


A postscript to the story about troubles in the House of Lampre-Ngc:

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, team manager Giuseppe Saronni told his riders that they could not participate in any of the post-Giro criteriums. Saronni is not happy about the lack of results from the team during the Giro and said that he would prefer to see his riders out training to prepare for their next objectives than travelling around Italy for the crits. “Instead of wasting time and hours of sunlight to ride at night, we prefer to concentrate on preparing for our many upcoming objectives,” he said. The criteriums are typically held at night for more optimal partying.

Of course, the riders make significant money in appearance fees by “racing” the post-Giro criteriums, so Saronni’s edict is not without conseqences. Damiano Cunego had planned to make six appearances, which would have brought him close to €20,000.00 in fees.

Memo to Lampre riders: Start winning. Today.

Friday Afternoon Ramble

So much fun, this Giro Centenario, it’s hard to let it go. I always enjoy the merry month of May and the romp around Italy. I did miss the high mountains, though, in this Giro. Where was my Gavia and Stelvio, where was the “Graveyard of Champions”? But it was fun, anyway. So much lovely scenery on and off the roads.

How about some random left-over Italian gossip?

Franco Pellizotti, who finished third in the Giro Centenario, wants to ride a grand tour as sole captain. Apparently, he didn’t much like sharing a team with Ivan Basso. In particular, he said that Basso’s hard riding on the Alpe di Siusi cost Pellizotti the Giro win. Pellizotti got dropped in the final kilometers of the climb. Ooops. Pellizotti seems to think that he’d have been better off without Basso, ignoring the likelihood that someone would certainly have attacked on the Alpe di Siusi, with or without Ivan. And does Pellizotti really think he could have beaten Menchov? You’re dreaming, Franco, you’re dreaming. I mean, I do like the hair, but hair alone a grand tour winner does not make. Word is that Pellizotti will ride the Tour de France, with the ambition to finish high in the general classification. Optimistic, this Italian.

In the meantime, Ivan Basso will head to the Dauphiné Libéré, where he will ride for the general classification. “I would like to win,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. Basso also said that he is happy with his Giro d’Italia, though he admitted that he needs to do more work on his time trialing. He will have the chance to get in some practice at the Dauphiné, which has two individual cronos. The long crono is 40 kilometers. Youch. Basso confided to Gazzetta that he found the high speed of this Giro difficult, and the unusually short stage finishing on the Blockhaus to be a big challenge. He felt best on the Alpe di Siusi and on the road to Faenza, where he launched an early, though ultimately unsuccessful, attack with Stefano Garzelli. After the Dauphiné, Basso will take a break, before preparing for the Vuelta a España.

A mini-tempest in a teacup broke out earlier this week after Riccardo Riccò – remember him? – gave an interview, in which he talked about his suspension and his plans to return to racing. The interview followed the usual narrative of how devastated he was by his positive control, how his friends and family supported him, how terribly sorry he is about his big mistake, and how much he is looking forward to returning to the sport. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In any case, Riccò mentioned that several teams have expressed an interest in hiring him when his suspension runs out. He mentioned Diquigiovanni-Androni, Ceramica Flaminia, and Lampre-Ngc by name. Riccò also claimed that a new team is in the works, perhaps sponsored by Mercatone Uno. Riccò, taking his Pantani obsession to new levels. It’s not enough to have hired Pantani’s former soigneur and adopted il Pirata’s climbing style, but he also wants to ride for the same team. A little creepy, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’ll say it anyway.

It turns out that Lampre-Ngc is not interested in Riccò. The team management quickly issued a denial, and claimed that the suspended climber did not meet the team’s ethical standards. Apparently, we are expected to forget the three riders – yes, count them, three riders – who tested positive from the Lampre squad. Now, all three have been fired, and it’s understandable that they might not wish to borrow trouble at chez Lampre. But still. It’s never a good idea to mix stones and glass houses.

On the subject of Lampre, reportedly, management is not happy with Marzio Bruseghin, who vocally supported the riders’ strike in Milano. The team sponsor Mario Galbusera happened to be sitting in the car with team manager Giuseppe Saronni during the stage, and Saronni instructed the team to race. Saronni later said that he had ridden the course 6 or 7 times, and found no problems with it. Bruseghin proved less-than-obedient to the team car’s directives. Rumors immediately erupted to the effect that Bruseghin would leave Lampre before his contract is up at the end of next season. Liquigas-Doimo is apparently his preferred destination. Not so fast, says Saronni, the team does not intend to let Bruseghin leave his contract early. Bruseghin, himself, has since made nice noises and all seems to be patched up. At least, for now.

And what about the Cunego Cunundrum? The 2004 Giro winner had a less-than-stellar Giro and provoked his share of polemica. In particular, Cunego suggested in an interview with Gazzetta after the stage finish on the Alpe di Siusi that the stage results would likely be revised before too much time had passed, implying that the riders at the top of the results sheet were doping. (More on that here.) From the press, meanwhile, came increasing calls for Cunego to give up on the grand tours and become a full-time classics rider. Until now, he has resisted this advice, determined to ride well in both the one day races and the grand tours.

Still, with every passing day, Cunego dropped farther down the classification. A long escape on the road to Monte Petrano offered a glimpse of the Cunego who wins bike races (as opposed to the Cunego who gets dropped early and often), but that effort failed to bring him the success he needed to quiet his critics and save his Giro. In a brief interview on the final day in Roma, he blamed his team management for putting too much pressure on him, saying, “I’m a man, not a machine.”

In a recent interview with L’Équipe, Giuseppe Saronni denied that there was a breach between Cunego and the team. Saronni explained Cunego’s recent grand tour problems as the result of nerves. He characterized his young captain as emotionally fragile. Cunego has carried a heavy burden of expectation, named as he was the next great Italian stage racer when he won the Giro at 22. In Saronni’s view, the consequences of that burden are still weighing Cunego down, especially on the roads of the Giro, where he found success so early and so easily. The answer? The former Giro winner will almost certainly switch to the one-day classics beginning next season. It’s clear that the grand tours aren’t working, said Saronni, and he believes Cunego can handle his nerves better in the one day races. “It’s time to decide,” concluded Lampre-Ngc manager.

All this may be true, but it’s also clear that Saronni is likely doing some fence-building here for Cunego. The former Giro winner’s out-spoken anti-doping comments risk making him persona non grata, which among other things would complicate Cunego’s ambition to win Worlds in Mendrisio this season. (More on that, in a moment). Certainly, suggesting that Cunego’s comments and his lack of performance are the consequence of nerves lets everyone avoid the hard questions. Is he really doping free, as he claims? And is that the reason for his lack of results? And if so, what does that say about the 19 or so riders who placed ahead of him at the Giro? The answer probably lies somewhere between Saronni’s explanation and Cunego’s. His lack of results in the grand tours are some combination of his own fitness and talent and the “ethical” decisions of the riders around him.

In the meantime, Franco Ballerini, the selector for the Italian Worlds team, has named Danilo Di Luca as the captain for the Azurri in Mendrisio. Cunego, who finished second in Varese last year, had set Worlds as one of his main goals for the season, because the hilly course in Mendrisio should suit his characteristics. Paolo Bettini had also named Cunego as his successor for team leadership of the Azurri.

That all looks likely to be brushed aside by the ambitions of Danilo Di Luca. In particular, Di Luca wants invitation to the big races next year. He has threatened to change teams, if the LPR Brakes management can’t acquire the necessary guarantees. Di Luca has named Lampre, Katusha, and Silence-Lotto as possible detinations. Plainly, if he wants a free hand at Worlds, Cunego needs to find a good result soon.

Oh, and in one more twist to the story, Cunego is also out of contract at the end of this year. Would the Lampre management throw Cunego to the wolves and hire Di Luca? At this point, it doesn’t seem likely, as by all accounts, the team sponsor likes Cunego. But liking may not be enough, if the results don’t come.

Ah, Italy. There really is rarely a dull moment in Italian racing. But now, we really must move on to France. The Tour awaits, and the Dauphiné starts on Sunday. I have previewage of the Dauphiné up, natch., and I’ll write daily updates over at Steephill.

And I’ll try not to neglect my poor bloggy so much in the future. It’s good to have goals, dontcha think?

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Past is Prologue

At last, Andy Schleck has taken the huge potential that has grabbed the attention of the cycling world since he turned pro, and celebrated victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Schleck’s winning move came on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons with 20 kilometers to go. It should have come as no surprise: He launched precisely the same attack in last year’s edition of La Doyenne. In that case, the determined efforts of Davide Rebellin ended Schleck’s bid for freedom. This time, the large chase group could not bring back the flying climber.

Sometimes, it’s easier to stay away from a large group than a small one. Odd, but true. In a small group, everyone is playing to win. There is commitment and urgency. In a big group, well, there’s always someone else who will chase, right? And look, there’s more than one guy from the other team, I’m sure they’ll do the work. Of course, by then, the winning move is well and truly gone.

In the case of this Liège, a sprinter problem also slowed the chase. No one wanted to drag Alejandro Valverde, Davide Rebellin, or Damiano Cunego to the line. Of course, both Cunego and Valverde wanted nothing more out of this race than to reach the sprint. Waiting for the sprint sometimes works. But other times, it becomes a trap, forcing a rider into a passive, defensive role, from which he can not shape the race to his ends.

Saxo Bank, meanwhile, made sure to disrupt the chase effort whenever possible, subtly inserting a rider into the line-up. The Danish team is truly skilled at this manuever: no Cat. 5 style sit-up and grab brake levers blocking here. It didn’t hurt that in Karsten Kroon and Fränk Schleck, the team had two possible winners in the chase group.

Though Andy Schleck won solo, the team deserves significant credit for this win, as he proved quick to acknowledge. In much the same way Quick-Step dominated the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Saxo Bank had tight control over this race. Indeed, put Andy Schleck in the position of Stijn Devolder, and you have exactly the same race. Well, except for the part about the cobbles. Details, shmetails.

Tactically, this Liège bore the marks of a team effort. The successive attacks of Chris Anker Sörensen, Alexandr Kolobnev, and Karsten Kroon wore down the teams and set the conditions for Schleck’s big move to succeed. Lampre-Ngc, in particular, looked short-handed in the finale, and Cunego had no team-mates left by the decisive kilometers. From the helicopter shot, it was possible to see either a Silence-Lotto or Caisse d’Épargne rider (the jerseys look similar from the air shots) waving his arms in Cunego’s direction. What, you expect us to tow you to the line?

Cunego seemed to trap himself in this race. He convinced himself that he needed to wait for the sprint to win, and he seemed to expect that one way or another a sprint would come. Though he tried to follow Andy Schleck on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, he did not appear to have the legs. Even so, he wasn’t the first to react, instead waiting for Davide Rebellin to jump first. Cunego followed much the same pattern on the Saint-Nicholas. He followed the attack of Michele Scarponi, looking for the small group sprint, he’d conditioned himself to expect. Unlike Saxo Bank, Cunego’s Lampre-Ngc could not impose their plan on the race. They could only react.

Perhaps Cunego could not do anything more this time, though his performances elsewhere suggest he has the legs to win in the Ardennes. The Italian seems to ride best when he has nothing to lose, and simply rolls the dice, as he did at Lombardia last October. When Cunego has won, he has also made the race, rather than rely solely on his big sprint. And perhaps that is the mark of the best one-day riders: They are able to adapt to the way the race unfolds, seize what opportunites that come their way, and commit without second-guessing. Sometimes Cunego shows those characteristics. This time, he didn’t.

And then, there’s Philippe Gilbert, who has never seen an attack he didn’t like. Gilbert’s move made a certain kind of sense: Anticipate the attack he knew must come from Andy Schleck on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, an attack he knew he couldn’t follow. It nearly worked, except for the part where in Gilbert’s words, “Schleck dropped me like a junior.” At the finish, Gilbert still had legs left to take fourth in the sprint. With just a bit more speed, he’d have taken his second podium in a monument this season, after his third place finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Like Andy Schleck, Philippe Gilbert begins to come into his own. In Gilbert, we have a rider who will always dare and always surprise. Hopefully, he’ll win a few, too, while he’s at it.

All of which is to say that the strongest rider won on the day. A big solo escape, perfectly timed and placed to the characteristics of the rider who made it. Andy Schleck will never win a sprint, but he climbs like a dream and has the engine to finish the deal. All of cycling’s sages have marvelled at his abilities since he first turned professional, and all expect him to win the sport’s biggest races. He has a Tour win in those legs somewhere. It’s a matter of if, not when. He’s already made the podium in the Giro d’Italia. The last rider to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de France in a single season was Eddy Merckx. Only two other riders have won both races in their career: Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil. And they both, like Merckx, won the Tour five times.

But it’s far, far too early to be talking about the Tour de France. We have first the party in Italy to enjoy. Giro!

Liquigas Doimo Giro Team

Liquigas has taken on a new co-sponsor beginning at this year’s Giro. Doimo is one of the leading furniture manufacturers in Italy. So far, the sponsorship agreement covers the Giro d’Italia, but it may extend into a more permanent relationship.

Liquigas also today announced the riders for the Giro Centenario. Ivan Basso fresh off his win at the Giro del Trentino will lead the team. Franco Pellizotti, who finished fourth in last year’s Giro d’Italia, is listed as a co-captain, though it seems likely he will ride in support of Basso when it comes right down to it. Kjell Carlström, Manuel Quinziato, Gorazd Stangelj, and Alessandro Vanotti will drive the team on the flats, while Valerio Agnoli, Vladimir Miholjevic, and Sylwester Szmyd support Basso and Pellizotti in the mountains.

Sadly, Liquigas sprinter Daniele Bennati has not recovered from the injury he suffered at Tirreno-Adriatico and will miss this year’s Giro. He hopes to recover in time for the Tour de France. Given the ambitions of the team’s stage race captains Basso and Pellizotti, Bennati would not likely have had much team support in the sprints, anyway.

In somewhat related news, Damiano Cunego called Ivan Basso the favorite to win this Giro in an interview this morning on Cunego said that Basso had a “good head and motor,” and is a true rider for the stage races. Cunego believes Basso has a “better chance than Armstrong” to wear Pink in Roma. For his own part, Cunego is hoping to make the podium this time around. In the years since his win in 2004, Cunego has consistently finished in the top five. To beat Basso is a big ask, but a podium finish is well within reach for Cunego.

Back lates with some chat about Liège. Yes, that’s very out of order of me. I s’pose you can sue if you like, but I’d rather you didn’t.

Look Who’s On Form: Cunego Wins at Settimana Coppi e Bartali

Really, there should be a law against race names of unusual length.

Damiano Cunego of Lampre-NGC beat out Josè Serpa of Serrementi Diquigiovanni-Androni (whose team has far too many names) in a two up sprint to win today’s Stage 2 of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. The two riders escaped on the descent from the final climb of the day, the Monte Trebbio. Giovanni Visconti of ISD finished third and took over the leader’s jersey from his team-mate ISD sprinter, Oscar the Cat.

An early breakaway departed the main field after 35 kilometers. Alessio Signego of Adria Mobil and Luca Fioretti of Centri della Calzatura built up a maximum lead of 5’38” after the first ascension of the Monte Carla (sister to Monte Carlo?). But Liguigas and ISD, the team of race leader Oscar Gatto, soon went to work, not willing to allow the break to have too much fun. By kilometer 125, it was all over for Signego and Fioretti. Gruppo compatto.

On the Monte Trebbio, a split opened up in the field, and nine riders escaped. The new break included: Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto (who won the overall last year), Damiano Cunego of Lampre-NGC, José Serpa of Serramenti Pvc Diquigiovanni Androni Giocattoli (Ha!), Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas, Domenico Pozzovivo of Csf Group Navigare, Robert Kiserlovski of Amica Chips Knauf, Massimo Giunti of Miche Silver Cross, Giovanni Visconti of ISD, and Przemyslaw Niemiec of Miche Silver Cross. Pre-race favorite Michele Scarponi, who won the Settimana in 2007, did not make the move. With 200 meters to climb, José Serpa launched an attack. The move came at the steepest section of the climb. Only Cunego could follow.

From the top of the 500 meter climb, there remained 20 kilometers of descending to ride to the finish. Cunego and Serpa put their descending skills to work and maintained their advantage. After the descent came a flat 600 meters. Cunego easily won the sprint over Serpa by several bike lengths.

Behind, the group of seven followed by 19 seconds. Giovanni Visconti of ISD won the sprint for third ahead of Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto. Visconti took over the leader’s jersey, thanks to his team’s win in the rainy crono on Tuesday.

Cunego recently returned to Italy after a training camp at altitude in Tenerife in preparation for the Ardennes races, which represent his first major objectives of the season. “This victory is good for me,” he said afterwards. “And also for our team, which has suffered from the illness of Ballan and the indisposition of Lorenzetto on the eve of Sanremo. It is also a victory achieved against a worthy, strong, and on form adversary,” Cunego continued. “It shows that the work I have been doing is right,” he concluded.

For his part, Serpa was disappointed to miss the stage win, but also was also content with his developing form. He will be “at the shoulder” of Davide Rebellin at Flèche-Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, after the team received notification today that the ASO has offered them an invitation to both races. Serpa is also looking forward to the Giro d’Italia, and considered today’s ride a good sign of things to come.

The new race leader Giovanni Visconti is hoping to defend his jersey, though tomorrow’s hilly stage will certainly complicate his task. With just seconds in hand over Cunego, Visconti will have a difficult time defending his race lead. “I had hoped to win the stage, but the jersey is a nice consolation,” he said. Visconti made the group of the favorites on the climb, but when Serpa and Cunego attacked, he did not “have the legs to follow.” “I am hoping for the overall victory: Tomorrow will be a difficult stage, I will try to hold on to the jersey.”

Wednesday’s stage 3 covers 163 kilometers between Borgo S.Lorenzo and Serramazzoni. It is a lumpy, bumpy affair, with few flat stretches, and should favor the attackers. Visconti’s lead will no doubt come under pressure, as the course will make controlling the race very difficult for ISD. Cunego needs only 9 seconds to take over the lead. The finish is a quick uphill, that looks made for a rider like Cunego or Diluca, the fast finishers who do so well in Italian cycling. Course details.

Sources, Gazzetta dello Sport and, who has full results listed.