ROMONT, Switzerland (VN) — After a blank season in 2010, Italy’s Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) is back to his best. The 29 year old’s victory on Thursday at stage 2 of the 65th Tour de Romandie came in a trademark uphill sprint, crossing the line in medieval Romont two seconds ahead of an impressive Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) in third.
Race leader Pavel Brutt (Katusha Team) was dropped on the steep slopes of the last categorized climb, Le Gibloux, but rode bravely to retain the yellow jersey by 38 seconds over Cunego, with Evans moving up to third and Vinokourov fourth. Brutt later thanked his fellow Russian teammate Vladimir Karpets for pacing him over the final 20km. “I’m usually working for him,” said the quietly spoken blond rider, “so it was an honor to have Karpets riding for me.”
Thursday’s win was Cunego’s third this year, following a stage of the Tour of Sardinia and the semi-classic Tour of the Apennines, but he is not riding next week’s Giro d’Italia, which he won six years ago at age 22. The now 29-year-old’s palmarès also boasts two Tours of Lombardy and one Amstel Gold Race.
“The main goal today was the stage win. That’s now in the bag,” Cunego said. “It was a confusing finish, with riders going everywhere. But I was able to make a very clean sprint.”
The Italian complimented his Slovenian teammate Simon Spilak, the defending Romandie champion, who paced his leader on the kilometer-long uphill to the finish to close down a four-man break that had a 10-second gap at the foot of the multi-turn climb.
A feisty Evans was the first to pounce out of the 25-strong group after passing the break’s David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo), Rui Costa (Movistar) and Dario Cioni (Sky); but BMC’s Aussie leader had to cut his storming effort just as he was passing the last member of the break, Frenchman Mikael Chérel (AG2R-La Mondiale), in the last turn, which curved sharply to the right.
“The AG2R rider was coming left and he almost put me in the barriers,” Evans told VeloNews. “I had to brake and back off right there. It would have been close, but Cunego is fast on a hill like that.”
As Evans began to re-accelerate, Cunego began his winning effort on the 53-tooth big ring where the gradient was a its steepest. “We were already doing 35 kilometers an hour, and I went very hard out of that corner (with 200 meters left),” the Italian said.
Before his clash with Chérel, Evans looked as though he would make a repeat of his stage win at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, where Cunego led out his Lampre teammate Michele Scarponi for second.
Cunego didn’t originally plan to race this week in Romandie because he’d hoped to peak for the Ardennes classic. But, he explained Thursday evening, “I had good legs last week, but I didn’t have good luck. I was so-so in the Amstel Gold Race, then I crashed at the Flèche, so I was not at my best in Liège.” That decided him to make use of his good legs by racing here in Switzerland rather than take a break before building up to the Tour de France.
A day after Brutt and three others succeeded in a race-long breakaway, the peloton was reluctant to let any group get more than a few seconds clear on this extremely hilly stage that featured 6,000 feet of total climbing in a three separate loops, including the Romont hill on each of lap. The last loop had the Cat. 1 Le Gibloux (4.5km at 7.3 percent), which proved to be the stage’s critical challenge, 16km from the finish.
After the opening 82km were raced at 45 kph, Frenchman Christophe Kern (Europcar) made the day’s first real escape on the descent of the first of three KOMs. And when he was joined by countryman Maxime Bouet (AG2R-La Mondiale) 10km later, the day’s main breakaway had formed.
Kern and Bouet, respectively 8:37 and 3:40 down on GC, posed no immediate threat to overnight leader Brutt, whose seven Katusha teammates took over the head of the peloton, keeping the gap under three minutes. Then, as the hills and the rain got heavier, the Liquigas, Lampre and BMC teams went to the front, cutting the two French riders’ lead to just 10 seconds as they reached the steep slopes of Le Gibloux, where the race explode under pressure from the Astana, BMC, HTC-Highroad, Lampre and Liquigas squads.
There were innumerable attacks after the summit, with racer after racer jumping out of the 30-strong front group, including the Garmin team’s Tom Danielson, Peter Stetina (who would take over the white jersey of best young rider), Andrew Talansky and Millar. It was exciting stuff, but the eventual Millar-led quartet just failed to hold off the teams working for their GC candidates.
Brutt is still in yellow, but he said he has virtually no chance of holding his 42-second GC advantage over Evans and Vinokourov in Saturday’s stage 4 time trial. But before then comes Friday’s 165.7km stage 3, which has a fast, flat finish into the lakeside town of Neuchâtel. But that fast finale comes at the end of a 52km loop that takes in a Cat 1 and Cat. 2 climb in the last 40km. It should best suit a sprinter who can get over the hills — perhaps Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Ben Swift (Sky) or Mark Renshaw (HTC).
- 1. Damiano Cunego (ITA), Lampre-ISD, in 4:10:53
- 2. Cadel Evans (AUS), BMC Racing Team, at 0:02
- 3. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ), Astana, at 0:02
- 4. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (POR), Movistar, at 0:02
- 5. David Lopez Garcia (ESP), Movistar, at 0:02
- 1. Pavel Brutt (Rus), Team Katusha, in 8:43:39
- 2. Damiano Cunego (Ita), Lampre-ISD, at 0:38
- 3. Cadel Evans (Aus), BMC Racing Team, at 0:42
- 4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Astana, at 0:42
- 5. Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:46