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87th Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Interviews
By Fabio
Date: 5/25/2004
87th Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Interviews
Stage winner, overall leader and "man of the moment" Damiano Cunego was well aware of his accomplishment, but also of how much he owes it to his teammates, and of the fact there's a long way to go before he can climb the Milan podium with the overall leader's mantle on his shoulders; or at least that's what one may say after hearing the interviews he gave both after crossing and line and minutes after the stage end,: "I still find it hard to believe (that I won). I don't know what to say. Maybe it was just a mixture of things that truned today into the right day. For me to win the stage at least: while as for the jersey, we'll see (in the coming days). I'm very happy anyway. I must thank Andrea Tonti and Eddy Mazzoleni first. They have done a wonderful job for me today".

And again "It was a huge team job. Gilberto gave me green light on the Furcia Pass, and we also had two men in the break, Mazzoleni and Tonti, that waited for me and were much of help. I want to dedicate this victory to all of my teammates. And ... I'm still a bit incredulous aboyut the whole thing. Everything worked out fine for me, and I'm just happy with that". more from Damiano "I must conffess I was cionfident that icnmopudkld owell. I did well early in the race, with two wins, but then many flat stages came, and that wasn't the ideal place for a climber like me to gauge his legs. Today I could, and notice that my condition is good".

Asked about his best-known teammmate, Cunego said that "Gilberto has been great today. He was a highly marked man, everyone was keeping an eye on him, so I tried to take advantage of this situation, and had a go at breaking away. I noticed that when I made my move, nobody countered. Had I been caught, he would have counter-attacked, there was a kind of "alliance" between us. But things went fine for me today, after I attacked, and there was a perfect agreement between me and the two teammates in the break, who helped me a lot. We had built a significative lead by the start of the last ascent, and then I gave everything I could. I noticed that the lead wasn't shrinking, and my legs were still good, so I kept giving it all until the line".

Time to think about the days and challenges to come before Milan, right Damiano? "Well, first of all, I want to enjoy this jersey, which is a great thing (by itself), but one also has lots o responsibilities when it's on his shoulders. I wore it six days before, and I can say that it wasn't so easy. Now there's a rest day, which everyone deserves, and three difficult stages with plenty of climbs, where I'll try and defend my lead. Every day is a new challenge. My morale is high, and I gotta be confident. I have got a great team, and a great leader as Simoni; the two of us will definitely race together, alongside each other, and without hurting each other. But I can't say I have it won, the Giro finishes in about a week, and also today we saw how little it takes for one to make huge gaps, to gain or lose a minute or so. So we'll just try and handle our lead in the best way possible, doing our best as we have always done, and then we'll see ...".

While Cunego had a wonderful day, the stage a had a "mixed" outcome for Gilberto Simoni. He showed some good legs, and launched an attack on the final climb, and played a significant part in the victory of his young teammate: But on the other side of the coin the same performance by Damiano Cunego, made possible also by Simoni's loyalty, makes it hard (if not impossible) for the man to score a hat-trick of GC wins in this race. And one could catch these contradictions also in Gibo's post-stage interviews: "I noticed that I was a marked man, so I told Cunego to go. Had someone reacted and brought him back, I would have launched a counter-attack. But nobody did. Unfortunately things went exactly as I expected. Not as I wanted, as I really wanted to win this Giro. But everything is in Damiano's favour". And again "Cunego has gone fast, but I think the real hero of the day wasn't him, but the whole team. Mazzoleni and Tonti have been fantastic today. We told them to get into a break. And they did. We told them to stop. And they did. We told them to ride hard. And they did. It would be great to hv such a team at the tour de France too. The fact we still have the Maglia Rosa means a lot to me; I always said that I ride for the team first. This is Damiano's Giro, and I'll stay beside him to help".

Sure it wa sno "mixed" balance for Stefano Garzelli. the Vini Cakldirola team leader lost further time today, and proved one more time that he's not a factor in this year's race: "I just can't have a good day in this Giro. Also Today I had to chase the others all the time; maybe it's not the right year, maybe it's just the others that go faster than me. The Saecos are going very fast, they have done a great job today. And, well, we'll see what happens in the coming days".

Acqua & Sapone's Rinaldo Nocentini came close to a sensational win, and lost only to Damiano Cunego: "To be honest, I have to say that I had a great result today. I have been in the break for almost 200 km., and when Cunego caught me, I almost managed to follow his wheels. But he's in a very good condition, and is battling for the overall win. My condition is good too, and after having a bad day, I'm riding well now. I regret not winning the stage, but in my opinion I had a good ride today".

Panaria's Giuliano Figueras was the only one able to set up something similar to a chase after Cunego attacked; he didn't succeed, but got a good stage result, and moved up into fifth overall: "I think I had a good ride today, but there's always Damiano stealing the show to the others. Perhaps I made a mistake when I didn't counter his move on the Furcia Pass, but I thought we were too far from the line. But then he found his two teammates, and some help. I'm happy anyway, also because I managed to drop the others in the last climb. There's more climbing in the next days, so let's wait and see whether I can make further gains".

Tuttosport journalist Beppe Conti said that "Saeco's great team tactics aside, there's one thing to say: Simoni didn't have good legs today. Cunego had, but not Simoni. But in spite of this, the race is far from over. One day we asked Simoni which Giro climb was the most significant to him, and he responded that it was the Mortirolo. And with three mountains like that in Saturday's stage, if one attacks on the Mortirolo he can still reshuffle the leaderboard. I think Simoni didn't give up the fight. Only he wasn't as good as usual today".

Corriere della Sera's Gianfranco Josti "Well, in this Giro it's hard to find someone telling the truth. maybe only Popovych, that said he was going to lose the overall leader's mantle today, and that's what actually happened. Cunego said plenty of times that he was here to help Simoni, but he rode for himself today. I think Saeco played a perfect chess game, but also that neither Martinelli nor Corti (both Saeco's team managers) thought they could find a king with such good legs".

And what the aforementioned DS of the "Red Army", Giuseppe "Martino" Martinelli", had to say, notably when it comes to Saeco's perfect team tactics? "Well, when you have got good legs, you can do such things, and even more, you know. I think the boys accomplished exactly what we had planned. Gibo was great when he helped Damiano to break away, and Damiano did the rest". "Also the presence of Tonti and Mazzoleni in the break was part of the plans. We even had to ride hard, as nobody bak in the peloton wanted to take the race into their hands. But I think everyone (of us) was gtreat today. Really". "Simoni was the one that mostly urged Damiano to go, also in the last climbs, when he told Cunego to go, he told him that it was right time to attack. Simoni has been great today".

Ukraine's Serhyi Honchar maintained the runner-up position, and some chances to have the De Nardi name on the Milan podium. Some rumors talked of a possible "patriotic" agremeent between him and Popovych, with the man helping his fellow countryman. But facts on the route proved rumors wrong. And asked about them after the stage end, Honchar said that "I don't know of such things. I only know that I have De Nardi on my jersey, and he has Colnago-Landbouwkrediet, which is a different thing. He rides for himself, and I ride for myself and my team. We can cooperate only if we are in a similar situation, but just in that case". Honchar countered Simoni's move on the Forcia pass, but not Cunego's. Why that? "Well, just because he went too fast, for me too. I lost some weight, but I am not a climber, and I still struggle, namely when the gradient is over 10%. So I can't counter attacks from pure climbers".

And last but not least, words right from the team that dominated Tuesday's stage, thanks to SAECO'S PRESS RELEASE:

Cunego takes a legendary win at the Giro
Simoni and Saeco launch him to the summit

It was a special day at the Giro d’Italia with Damiano Cunego exciting the tifosi on the stage to Falzes. He took back the pink jersey after a stage that will go down in the history of cycling.

The 22 year-old from Verona won the stage alone after an extra ordinary display of superiority. His triumphant gallop started on the Furcia climb, 60km from the finish and was a spectacular crescendo with perfect support from the Saeco team. The placing of Mazzoleni and Tonti in the early break meant they were up the road when Cunego came across from the bunch and they helped greatly to increase his winning margin.

Cunego’s win was the result of a perfect race tactic from team manager Claudio Corti and directeur sportifs Giuseppe Martinelli and Flavio Miozzo in the team cars and from Gilberto Simoni on the road. Simoni did not hesitate in launching his team mate even if he knew the risks involved.

The consequences of the stage were serious with race leader Popovych losing almost four minutes. Simoni lost three minutes and could not hide his own disappointment but rightly pointed out the success of the team: “It was perfect ride by Damiano and the team was incredible. Now we’re going to ride for Cunego,” he said. With two major stages remaining many people do not believe the Giro is over, even if Cunego’s main rival seems to be Simoni.

Yet again Cunego showed his class and maturity even after the biggest win of his professional career: “Things went my way but the it was only possible thanks to the team and especially Mazzoleni and Tonti. Regarding Simoni I can only say one thing; He was fantastic. He’s the strongest and I just managed to take advantage of the situation”.

Now the Giro has become a dream for Cunego. “I can’t believe what’s happening,” he admitted. Cunego is only 22 yeas old but he has already won eight races this year. He has the pink jersey and now is the favourite to win the Giro. The racing is not over yet but that is the best thing about the Giro.

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