Poor Damiano Cunego. A 22-year-old boy has just gotten the biggest win so far in his career, which also happens to be his first one in his nation's main cycling event. The man is on cloud nine. All you expect in situations like this are questions about how he accomplished this great task, what this meant to him, about the "road" to this triumph, from his early years on the bike on, and such things. And what did the man get in fact? Something like that, but mainly a bunch of puzzling questions about what he'll be doing in the remainder of the race, and about his overall ambitions. In other words, about his "loyalty" to his appointed team leader.
Not that such questions were a surprise to him: Cunego even tried to avoid them and launched a "pre-emptive strike" as he stated more than once, before anyone could ask him, that he was at the Giro to help Gilberto Simoni win the race, that Saeco was a wild bunch of guys working sooo well together, and so on ... A pointless effort: the "hero of the day" just had the time to add things like "I still can't believe I won. I didn't expect I could take the stage today. This is my sixth success so far this year, so I can say the season got off to the best possible start. This victory was built by the whole team" and such, that the "uncomfortable" questions on whether he'll be going for the gold (actually the Rosa of the overall leader's jersey), on how suggestive is seeing domestiques "rebel" to their leaders kicked off.
But even if he didn't lose his smile (how could he not be smiling after such a victory?), Cunego's responses were clear: "I started as a domestique and still am a domestique. I will be working for Simoni. As for today, I knew that I can do well in small bunch sprints like that, so I tried to win and succeeded. Things went fine today, and I'll try again tomorrow if possible, but the Giro is a long race, so I'd better keep my feet on the ground".
Journalists didn't waste the opportunity to highlight his "I'll try and win again tomorrow" words, but Cunego tried to downplay the issue again: "Of course, if I look at the results I got today, it's logical that I can think I may do it again tomorrow. But all I wanna do now is celebrate the victory I just grabbed". Just to make things clear once more he said, "I want to tell you again, again, and again, 'cause everyone keeps asking me all the time, that I'm here (at the Giro) for Gilberto, and that we'll help him win the race".
And just to make things more clear, if possible, "Saeco has a very good team, and Simoni will be competitive for two-three more years at least, so I think that working is the right thing to do now. And I have at least 10 Giros in front of me, so why make things too fast now? It takes a lot to be team leader, and the best I can do is stay beside Gibo and try and learn from him as much as possible. And besides this, he was much of help to me today".
He may not be in a hurry on the GC side of the matter, but sure he was hungry for stage victory: while some expected Cunego to make his move on Tuesday only, the man decided to burst into spotlight 24 hours earlier. Why? "I knew that today's stage was hard enough, and when on the road I noticed that my legs were good enough. So I chose to have a go. It was a close sprint, but I came out as winner".
On to a (seemingly) non Simoni-related question, then "You are still young, and in-form since a long time. Do you think you can keep your condition into the final week?" A different kind of question perhaps, but equally puzzling: "This is a difficult question for sure. And I don't know what to say now. Sure I rode well and got some good results in the weeks before the Giro, but I hope I can maintain this form throughout the race, and stay alongside Simoni. That's why I'm here after all".
Some journalists didn't give up the fight, and kept asking him about his team leader: "What would you do if you found out you are better than Simoni?" But Cunego immediately replied, "I can't even think about it. I'm sure we are gonna see a very, very strong Gilberto in this Giro". We may start to get the REAL answers to all of these questions since tomorrow anyway, as the Corno alle Scale mountain top finish will tell us something on the Cunego/Simoni issue.
In the meantime, we may hear also what Gibo had to say to the RAI journalists after Monday's stage. Despite Saeco's great performance, Simoni denied that his team was carrying out any planned attack. "We just did what we had to do to not risk anything. Once we got over the climb, we rode hard for Cunego". And as for the sprint, "We knew that some bonus seconds were at stake, and there was Garzelli and others that might earn them, so we told Cunego to contest the sprint; we couldn't ask for a better result than this".
We end our "Saeco round-up" with the press release from the same "Red" team, with more words and opinions (some similar to the ones mentioned above) from Cunego, Simoni and Team Manager Martinelli.
The Giro díItalia falls in love with Damiano Cunego - He wins in Pontremoli with the class of a real campione: The Giro díItalia has only just started and the race has still to be written but three things are already very clear. First: Damiano Cunego is the new star of Italian cycling. Second: Gilberto Simoni has the form to win his third pink jersey. Third: Team Saeco is the strongest team in the Giro.
Stage two from Novi Ligure to Pontremoli had a lot if hidden traps and the final climb the Passo del Brattello was the spark that started an explosive finish. However Saeco were in full control when first Gorazd Stangelj attacked alone and then Damiano Cunego shook the race near the top of the climb with a clearly on form Gilberto Simoni on his wheel.
The Saeco red train quickly formed at the head of the leading group, dragging the move to the finish with incredible speed and force. Knowing that Cunego was one of the fastest finishers, all the team worked for the young talent. First Eddy Mazzoleni led him with an impressive turn of speed and then Cunego powered to the line to take his six win of an incredible season, one that is consecrating him as the big revelation of cycling and one to watch both in this Giro and in the future.
As well as taking the stage win, Cunego also took over the purple jersey of the points competition. Some are already saying that the jersey may soon become that of the Giro race leader, the pink jersey, perhaps even on Tuesdayís stage at Corno alle Scale. Damiano knows this but is also intelligent enough to know he has time on his side. "Iím riding well and Iíll try and win again at Corno alle Scale. However this doesnít change anything in the Saeco team," he said.
"Weíre all here to help Gilberto Simoni win the Giro. Iím still trying to understand how I won the stage. Iíve got time on my side and will have the chance to ride the Giro díItalia at least another ten times. I canít be compared to Simoni because Iím not used to handling all the responsibility, I havenít got his experience. For now Iím happy to ride with him and learn as much as I can. Heís the Team Saeco captain and Iím not saying that to have an easy time, Iím saying it because itís true."
Naturally Cunegoís win has created a lot of euphoria but in Team Saeco everything is under control and everybody is happy, including Gilberto Simoni. "Whoever says we made a mistake by attacking today is wrong," Simoni said. "We were just trying to control things to avoid any risks and then in the finale we realised we could win the stage and stop Garzelli from getting the time bonus. The team was great and so was Cunego by winning so well. Iím not surprised by how he rode, I know how talented he is."
Directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli was all smiles after the stage. "We know how good our team is and how special our leaders are. Whoever tries to create rivalry within the team and make us nervous is wasting their time, youíll see."