DAMIANO CUNEGO

Date of birth: 19/09/1981
From: Cerro Veronese, Italy
Team: Lampre
Previous teams: Saeco (2002-2004)

Damiano Cunego rider profile

Damiano Cunego is nicknamed the ‘Piccolo Principe’ (Little Prince) after the famous children’s character created by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and also because he is considered to be one of cycling’s biggest prodigies.

He was junior world champion on home roads in Verona in 1999 and then won the Giro d’Italia at just 22 in 2004. However since then he has struggled to confirm his stage racing ability but has shown he can win major classics. He won the Tour of Lombardy in 2004 and completed a rare treble by winning the end of season race again in 2007 and 2008.

Cunego comes from Cerro Veronese in the hills behind Verona and began cycling as a teenager after being a successful cross-country runner. He was discovered by Giuseppe Martinelli who also worked closely with the late Marco Pantani. However the two fell out in 2006 as Cunego matured and wanted to decide his own race programme and training.

Cunego won the Giro d’Oro and the Giro Medio Brenta in his first season as a professional with Saeco in 2002. He was part of the Italian national team that rode the Tour of Qinghai Tour, winning stage seven and the overall classification.

His professional career took off in the spring of 2004 when he won Giro del Trentino, the Giro dell’Appennino and the GP Industria & Artigianato. He then won four stages of the Giro d’Italia thanks to his fast sprint finish and took the pink jersey with a solo attack in the Dolomites. His attack angered team mate Gilberto Simoni but Cunego was supported by the Saeco team management who preferred to see him win in the Giro. Cunego ended his breakthrough season by winning the Tour of Lombardy and becoming the number-one ranked rider in the world.

2005 was a huge disappointment after the success of 2004. Cunego struggled in the Giro and was later diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus. He only returned at the end of the season and won the Japan Cup race.

The first signs that Cunego’s Giro d’Italia victory may have been a one off because of the circumstances of the race and weakness came in 2006. He struggled on the toughest climbs in the Dolomites and lost minutes in the time trials, eventually finishing 18-16 behind winner Ivan Basso.

He went on to win the best young rider’s white jersey in the Tour de France and was third at Liege-Bastogne-Liege behind Alejandro Valverde and Paolo Bettini but than only fuelled the debate that he should focus on the classics instead of major stage races. The debate continued in Italy in 2007 as Cunego finished fifth in the Giro d’Italia and won the Tour of Lombardy.

He dismissed the idea in interview, insisting he could be competitive in every kind of race. However in 2008 he confirmed his talent for the classics and flopped in the Tour de France. He won the Amstel Gold Race with a perfectly timed sprint at the summit of the Cauberg and then dropped his rivals on the descent and held them off on the last climb to win the Tour of Lombardy. He opted to focus on the Tour de France but performed terrible and eventually retired after a nasty crash on stage 18.

Cunego earned a place in the Italian team for the world championships in Varese. He got in the decisive breakaway and looked favourite for the sprint but then Lampre team mate Alessandro Ballan attacked alone in the final kilometres. Cunego won the sprint for second but was not happy, banging his handlebars in frustration rather than celebrating an Italian 1-2.

Cunego had a quiet winter at the end of 2008, spending time with his wife and young daughter, and prepared for the 2009 season with several training camps in Italy instead of racing outside of Europe.

He again plans to focus on the classics and the Giro d’Italia but has admitted he will struggle against Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso because of his poor time trialing.

Damiano Cunego results

2012

Giro del Trentino; stage two

2011

Tour of Sardinia; stage two

Giro dell’Appennino

Tour de Romandie; stage two

2009

Vuelta a Espana; stage eight

Vuelta a Espana; stage 14

Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali; overall
Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali; stage three
Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali; stage two

2008
Tour of the Basque Country; stage five
Tour of the Basque Country; points classification
Tour of Lombardy
Amstel Gold Race
Klasika Primavera
Japan Cup

2007
Giro del Trentino; overall
Giro del Trentino; stage one
Giro del Trentino; stage two
Deutschland Tour; stage four
Tour of Lombardy
GP Beghelli

2006
Tour de France; Best Young Rider
Giro del Trentino; overall
Giro del Trentino; stage two
Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale “Coppi e Bartali”; overall
Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale “Coppi e Bartali”; stage three
Giro d’Oro
GP Industria & Artigianato

2005
Tour de Romandie; stage three
Gran Premio Nobili Rubinetterie
Trofeo Melinda
Japan Cup

2004
Giro d’Italia; overall
Giro d’Italia; stage two
Giro d’Italia; stage seven
Giro d’Italia; stage 16
Giro d’Italia; stage 18
Giro del Trentino; overall
Giro del Trentino; stage one
Giro del Trentino; stage two
Tour of Lombardy
Giro dell’Appennino
GP Industria & Artigianato
2 Giorni Marchigiana / GP Fred Mengoni
Gran Premio Nobili Rubinetterie
Memorial Marco Pantani

2003
Tour of Qinghai Lake; overall
Tour of Qinghai Lake; stage seven

2002
Giro d’Oro
Giro del Medio Brenta

Damiano Cunego photos

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