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GIRO Stg 18: Cunego’s Pink Destiny

The defining moment of this Giro, and perhaps for the future of Italian cycling came in the last few hundred meters of today’s stage to Bormio 2000, when Damiano Cunego’s left his team leader, and the race, behind for good. His win signalled more than a spectacular arrival of his career, but a much need changing of the guard in Italian cycling. Only disaster in tomorrow’s stage can keep Damiano Cunego from his appointment with Pink destiny.

The race today was supposed to be the “big one”, the epic journey over the Passo di Gavia where Andy Hampsten crushed the filed in 1988. In reality, the stage was only 115 km long, but was one for the climbers, as it ran over the Passo de Tonale, the Gavia, and finished with a 10km climb up to Bormio 2000. Aside from an early race bid by Stefano Garzelli (a la Hampsten) over the Gavia, the day came down to a group of five (Cunego, Simoni, Fassa’s Dario Cioni, Sergei Honchar (DeNardi), and Perez Cuapio (Ceramiche Panaria-Margres) climbing to the finish together.

Simoni Didn’t Have It
My hat goes off to Gilberto, he did what a leader has to do – he threw down the gauntlet with 9 km to go on the last climb, and put in his attack. It looked like it might have lasted, that is until Cunego decided he’d given his team leader enough space and tore out of the group to chase him down. Simoni’s effort was short-lived, and at the moment he was caught, you knew his race was done. He did a good job this year, but he didn’t look as strong as in the past, or is it just that the young guns are that much better?

Garzelli Gonzo’ed
How can you not love the early race attack on the toughest stage of the race? Especially when it comes from one of the faves. Garzelli’s attack on the lower slopes of the Gavia was great to see, but when you’re 4’26” down on GC, you need something big. He got caught on the lower slopes of the last climb and spat out the back. He’s had a good career, but we didn’t really see the Garzelli of old at this Giro.

Cunego: The Next “…insert your own grand tour hero here…” ?
The boys at Procycling mag must be pretty chuffed with themselves, and we’ll no doubt be reading more about their early season pic of Cunego as one to watch. For sure, Cunego put in a huge race, has been great, and is clearly the strongest man in the field. And it’s great to see a new winner, and even better to see a new face winning. What remains to be seen, and we’ve seen this so many times before, is whether he’ll confirm as a great rider by going on to win a lot of important races, or will he join the crowded “where are they now” file of guys who blew heir wad, and were never heard from again. He’s only 22 year old, so let’s hope the media pressure doesn’t screw him up like so many riders before.

Italian stage racing has been in a slump the last few years. Not since Pantani has the Italian bunch produced a rider of Tour-winning caliber. Even Claudio Chiappucci raced at a higher level (in his day) and was more exciting to watch than the Giro winners of recent years. Sure, we compare everyone’s level to how they perform in the Tour, but these days, when it’s the one race where all the big boys show up in their best form, it’s justified as the benchmark. Simoni, Salvodelli, Garzelli, Gotti, – unfortunately none of these guys has had it at the Tour, and as they represent the best Italian stage racers, well, their results speak for themselves.

One thing for sure – in Damiano Cunego there is a glimmer of hope for the next generation of Italian stage racers.

Rider Comments Compiled by Michele Tomasi
Serguei Gonchar (De Nardi): “Today Cunego, as from the start of this Giro, was too fast for me. As I said many times, I think I’m the heaviest “climber” of this Giro! I’m just trying to keep my second place until Milan, and I think I’m doing it very well, but I cannot do more. Sometimes I’ve been able to attack on hills, but I don’t know why, at the Giro I’m never able to do it”.

Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola): “Today I tried to do something different, to attack from far, to see if it was posible to stir up the race. But in the downhill I was alone, and I had a strong headwind, so I couldn’t go far. I think I spent a lot of energy in that point, and so then later on the last climb, I wasn’t able to keep the wheels of the best. I don’t know if the Giro is finished here, but I know that it will finish in Milan. Only there will we know who will be the winner. About me, I’ll try to get a better place in the final overall, by trying to recover well tonight and do something again tomorrow”.

David Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo): “I think I’ve been able to do something really great today. I’m not a “super-man”, and since the start of the Giro, as all Fassa, I’ve been working for Petacchi, but I wanted to try my chances too, on the hills. On the Gavia I was feeling fine, and I tried to go with Garzelli, but then I saw that Saeco was still all together, and they didn’t give a lot of space. At the sprint I knew that Cunego was stronger than me, and so I think a 2nd place is good enough. Tomorrow I’ll try again, maybe not on Mortirolo because it’s too hard for a big guy like me, but on the last one…we’ll see!”
Results Stage 18
1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 3.56.31
2 Dario David Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 0.05
3 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) De Nardi
4 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco 0.10
5 Julio A. Perez Cuapio (Mex) Ceramiche Panaria-Margres 0.18
6 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Saeco 0.36
7 Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) Lampre
8 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 0.40
9 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Lampre
10 Andrea Noe’ (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi

GC After Stage 18

1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 80.38.46
2 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) De Nardi 1.31
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco 3.07
4 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 3.23
5 Dario David Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 4.44
6 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Lampre
7 Bradley McGee (Aus) FDJeux.com 5.24
8 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie 6.45

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