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Giro di Lombardia Roundup
By Podofdonny
Date: 10/17/2004
Giro di Lombardia Roundup

Damiano Cunego. (c) Unipublic.

Cunego Triumphs at the Tour of Lombardy and Opens a New Era

"Me and Basso will create some great racing in the next few years"

“It’s a great end to a fantastic season. I have to thank everybody; the team and my team mates who all worked for me. I also have to thank myself for having believed I could win.” Damiano Cunego was all smiles on the podium after winning the 98th edition of the Tour of Lombardy. Exactly 20 years ago Bernhard Hinault, a great rider Cunego could soon emulate, won the same race. “Let’s avoid such incredible comparisons but here’s no doubt it’s been a great year for me. After winning in the spring I won the Giro in May and that was amazing, winning a World Cup race is incredible,” Cunego said.

The extraordinary thing about the victory was the courage and determination of how Cunego won at just 23 years old.

“I made some mistakes and used a lot of energy but it was probably the only way to make things go my way.” Indeed when Ivan Basso attacked on the last climb of San Fermo, taking Boogerd and Evans with him, it seemed like Cunego had missed out. However it was exactly in that moment that Cunego showed his class. He never gave up and continued to chase hard before catching the three on the descent. At that point he was the favourite to win the sprint and even the arrival of Nardello could not change things. Cunego knew he was the fastest sprinter and knew he was in great shape after working hard in the Vuelta, and won comfortably.

“It’s a great win, almost as nice as winning the Giro d’Italia,” Cunego said.

“Winning a World Cup race is worth twice as much as other races. I’ve also beaten great rivals, especially Ivan Basso, who I’ll go up against in the future at the Giro and the Tour de France. I think it’s good for cycling and will excite the tifosi and capture the attention of young people. In the next few years it’s going to be an exciting time for cycling.”

CSC's Ivan Basso

Team CSC's Ivan Basso finished third in this season's last race, the 98th edition of the World Cup classic Giro di Lombardia, which was won by Damiano Cunego of Saeco, who beat Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) and Basso in the sprint of five riders at the finish in Como.

"I did everything to decide the race on the climbs, cause I could feel I had a great day. I felt extremely good all the way, but in the sprint I couldn't prevent Cunego from winning. Obviously, I would've liked to win the race, but I'm also very satisfied with my performance today. We've had a great year, and it was important for me and the team to do well in the last race of the season. This makes me very motivated and optimistic regarding next year,” Basso said after the race.

"All the time our ambition was to do well throughout the season, and with Basso's podium spot today, we had a great finish to a big season. Ivan has developed a lot, and it's important to remember, that he's more or less been in shape since February. Not many riders are capable of this. We close the season by playing a main part in one of the tough World Cup classics, and that's something to be proud of,” added Bjarne Riis.

Erik Zabel and T-Mobile have had a wonderful season. Courtesy Dave O’Nyons.

T-Mobile Number 1 Team

T-Mobile were equally happy with the result as their web site reports: “Great season finish for T-Mobile Team: With a one-point lead ahead of Dutch Rabobank, the Bonn racing stable capped the World Cup team ranking at the 98th Giro di Lombardia on Saturday. Italian Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) won the series for the third time in a row. While his compatriot Damiiano Cunego (Saeco) couldn't be beat at the 98th edition of the classic, a 29th place right behind his arch-rival Davide Rebellin from Team Gerolsteiner (both +1:40) was enough for the Olympic champion.

For T-Mobile, of course, it was time to celebrate: "We won the Tour de France team ranking, are on top of the world ranking and have now secured the World Cup. That speaks for a well-balanced team", a satisfied Team Manager Walter Godefroot explained. Sports Director Mario Kummer still couldn't believe it: "We passed Rabobank almost in the last curve," the ex-pro said. A decision can't be any tighter, but we deserve the success due to a constant performance throughout the entire season".

While Giro winner Cunego proved to have the best staying power in the finale after 246 demanding kilometres outsprinting Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), T-Mobile Aussie Cadel Evans and Daniele Nardello placed fourth and fifth in the same time as the young Italian. Given Bogeerd's placement, the third rider had to tip the balance. "That was tight. 'Matze' gave it his all on the last metres," Kummer described the decisive moment for the magenta-clad team with a beaming smile.

The Franconian crossed the finishing line in a second group 17 seconds after Cunego, four places ahead of Michael Rasmussen. That proved enough. Godefroot was highly satisfied: "Our appearance is a good basis for the team's entry in the new ProTour series next year," said the Belgian, who will be supported by team spokesman Olaf Ludwig in the future.

As expected, the last World Cup race in cycling history turned into a dramatic battle between Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Paolo Bettini (Quick Step).

"That's very sad for Davide. In the end, both riders failed to score, so the 13-point lead for Bettini remained the same," said Hans-Michael Holczer, Manager of Gerolsteiner, who talked about a "good year" despite of the missed chance: "It's been a good season for us, even though we lacked the icing on the cake." A trio had been dominating the race for a long time: Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Manuel Quinziato (Lampre) and Paolo Tiralongo (Ceramiche Panaria) pulled away early. However, on the selective course, the musketeers were neutralized with 61 km to go. By that time, the brave breakaways had already raced more than 160 km.

With 50 km remaining, the time for the big guns had come. On the 8,6 km climb, Madonna del Ghisallo, the favourites got into position. Almost a third of the 161 starters had already given up by then.

Attacks were launched again and again. Especially the T-Mobile Team around Nardello and Evans provided a lot of presssure. But also veteran Francesco Casagrande (Vini Caldirola), Ivan Basso (CSC) and Cunego tried everything in the finale on their homeground. Like Rebellin, Paolo Bettini had problems matching the fast pace. So the leading duo struggled towards the finish side by side, while on front the showdown began.

At first the courageously riding, Evans attacked, then Nardello tried to take his chance, but in vain: "On the last descent I suddenly had cramps. I tried to attack once more, but it wouldn't work," the man from Varese desribed the situation.

So Damiano Cunego, the best sprinter, came out on top on the last metres. The T-Mobile Team certainly didn't mind too much at the end.

T-Mobile - Number One. Courtesy Dave O’Nyons.

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