By Andrew Hood
He’s been talking about it for the past few seasons, now Damiano Cunego will finally do it. Italy’s “Prince” of cycling will skip the Giro d’Italia and focus on the Tour de France instead.
The 26-year-old Cunego likes the look of the 2008 Tour route compared to the more challenging Giro on tap for May. He was 11th in the Tour debut in 2006 and believes he challenge for the podium in July.
“This year’s Tour is better suited for me than the Giro,” Cunego told Corriere della Sera. “There are fewer kilometers of time trials and some beautiful climbs. It fascinates me.”
In what’s heresy among Italian fans could change the dynamic of this year’s Tour that will be without the powerful Astana team or its defending champion, Alberto Contador.
Cunego, winner of the best young rider’s jersey in 2006, will move up as pre-race favorite. He’d love to change the white jersey for one of a yellow shade.
“The yellow jersey is a global symbol. Winning the white jersey was a beautiful experience. I did pretty well in my first Tour, now I will go back with more confidence,” Cunego continued. “I will go to the Tour convinced of my own abilities, but without presuming too much. The Tour does not forgive.”
Cunego, no longer the boy wonder of Italian cycling, knew it was time to shake things up. After his breakthrough Giro victory in 2004, he’s since stalled in attacking the Italian grand tour, with 18th in 2005, fourth in 2006 and fifth last year.
The departure of longtime sport director Giuseppe Martinelli is seen as part of this change. The veteran Martinelli dominated Cunego’s program and there were reports of tension as Cunego wanted more say in how the team was run and organized.
“The fact is I wanted to try something different this year. With the help of Saronni and the Lampre staff, they helped me make this decision to take a new road,” he said. “When there’s a team with so much talent, there needs to be a captain who can lead.”
Before the Tour come the spring classics. Cunego will race Amstel Gold for the first time and then make a run for victory at Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogn-Liège, where he was third two years ago.
“Liège is one of the most beautiful races, it’s all about waiting, being tactical,” he said. “Before the Tour, I will race the Tour de Suisse and then the Italian championships. I don’t exclude the Olympics, but I believe the world championship course in Varese is better for me. I’ll race the Vuelta to prepare for it.”