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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta Notebook: Cunego primed for worlds

Damiano Cunego’s second stage victory at this year’s Vuelta a España shows he’ll be one of the riders to beat at the world championships later this month at Mendrisio. His dramatic win up the steep La Pandera climb ahead of Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) only fuels his ambitions ahead of the worlds. “The worlds is the top goal for me and the Vuelta is ideal preparation,” Cunego said. “These victories at the Vuelta confirm that I am enjoying good form right now and I will carry that into the worlds.”

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By Andrew Hood

2009 Vuelta a España, Stage 14: Lampre’s Damiano Cunego is ready for worlds after winning two mountainous Vuelta stages.

Photo: Graham Watson

Damiano Cunego’s second stage victory at this year’s Vuelta a España shows he’ll be one of the riders to beat at the world championships later this month at Mendrisio.

His dramatic win up the steep La Pandera climb ahead of Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) only fuels his ambitions ahead of the worlds.

“The worlds is the top goal for me and the Vuelta is ideal preparation,” Cunego said. “These victories at the Vuelta confirm that I am enjoying good form right now and I will carry that into the worlds.”

A silver medalist in last year’s worlds behind teammate Alessandro Ballan, the on-form Cunego is perfectly suited to the hilly Mendrisio course.

Italian coach Franco Ballerini came to the Vuelta last week to get a closer look at who’s running well in the worlds, but with Ballan not looking as sharp as last year, Cunego’s winning rides will make it easier for Ballerini to make the always-controversial decision to anoint a captain on the deep Italian worlds squad.

“There are always two or three captains for the Italians at the worlds, but I expect to be one of them,” Cunego said.

An official list of the Italian team will be released perhaps as soon as Monday.

Likely to join Cunego and Ballan are such riders as Ivan Basso, Luca Paolini, Filippo Pozzato, Stefano Garzelli and Michele Scarponi.

Ryder’s corner

Officials from Almeria are so excited about the success of the stage up the Velefique climb featured in Friday’s 12th stage they are going to take a page from L’ Alpe d’Huez and begin naming switchbacks in honor of winners.

Names of Tour de France stage winners adorn the famous 21 lacets up Alpe d’Huez and local officials want to try to create the same interest and tradition up the newly paved road to the Velefique summit.

That first privilege will go to Ryder Hesjedal, who became the first Canadian to win a stage at the Vuelta a España on the very first Vuelta stage to finish atop the grueling, first-category climb.

“They are going to do like Alpe d’Huez and put a plaque on each switchback of the climb. Ryder will have his name there on a sign,” Garmin-Slipstream sport director Johnny Weltz told VeloNews. “The local government was very excited about the Vuelta and they’ve said they’re going to invest a lot to bring the Vuelta back. Ryder is going to receive a special plaque and recognition as the winner up the climb.”

Officials could not be reached for comment on how many switchbacks the Velefique climb has, but there are at least 10 hairpins in the final 3km — plenty of room to name eventual stage-winners well into the next decade.

Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody