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Retiring Cunego remains bitter with 2018 Giro snub

SARNANO, Italy (VN) — Damiano Cunego, who won the 2004 Giro d’Italia, remains bitter that the organizers overlooked his Nippo-Vini Fantini team for 2018 and a chance for him to retire in style.

The snubbed 36-year-old will instead end his career at a lower-key race, the Italian road championship, this June.

“I’m very bitter about missing the Giro d’Italia, they didn’t give me the chance, unfortunately,” Cunego told VeloNews. “It’d be good that the Giro invites the Italian teams a little bit more like the Tour de France does with French teams, but I understand that it’s not my decision, that the big important people decide.”

For the 2018 Giro, departing May 4 in Jerusalem, organizer RCS Sport named the 18 WorldTour teams along with four wildcards from the professional continental division. Overlooking Nippo, it went with Israel Cycling Academy – the race is starting in their home country – and Italian teams Bardiani-CSF, Androni-Sidermec, and Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia.

Nippo hoped RCS Sport would snub Bardiani, who last year had two of its riders test positive for human growth hormones on the eve of the race. It also hoped with the 2004 champion and riders like Ivan Santaromita and Juan José Lobato it could earn its place.

It would have marked 14 years since Cunego left behind team leader Gilberto Simoni and won the title. He was just 22 years old. Since, he has won three times Il Lombardia and the Amstel Gold Race, but never again the Giro or even a stage victory in the race.

“Yeah, maybe I won it when I was too young in my career, but it’s good as it is,” Cunego said.

“I don’t know it didn’t happen for me. I had the luck to win many other races. I many times prepared to win it, I finished fourth, fifth, sixth, but I wasn’t able to win it again. There are many, though, who don’t even have their name on [the spiral trophy] even once.”

Cunego went from the red colors of team Saeco to Lampre’s famous blue and pink in 2005. He stayed with the team for 10 years. He was able to win two stages in the Vuelta a España and the Giro del Trentino three times along with the Amstel Gold Race and Lombardia in 2004, 2007, and 2008.

He said, “Those are no small races.”

His career also saw him ride to sixth overall in the Tour de France behind winner Cadel Evans in 2011. In what turned out to be his last Giro in 2016, he climbed to 44th overall and second in the mountains classification.

In Tirreno-Adriatico this week, he calmly spoke as he prepared his team’s bright orange kit before the start of stage two. The team has been able to create a decent schedule for Cunego and its riders even if it is missing the Giro.

“I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance in the Giro d’Italia, for my fans above all, but it’s not my decision,” Cunego continued. “Luckily we are here at Tirreno-Adriatico, we’ll do the Tour of Japan, Giro del Trentino [Alpes], the Tour de Suisse, and I should finish it with the Italian championships.”

Cunego is studying in his free time at the races and at home in Verona to become a coach for cyclists. Perhaps he will stay with team Nippo after he retires.

“Mistakes? I think I took the right road in my career,” he added.

“I’d repeat the same things if I could, but maybe with more experience. It’ would’ve been good to have that experience 15 years ago when I was starting out.”

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