May 31, 2004
Cunego crowned, Petacchi extends record at Giro
Italy's newest cycling hero had his coming-out party in Milan on Sunday, as Damiano Cunego finished off his biggest victory, in the 2004 Giro d'Italia. Cunego becomes the races youngest winner since Giuseppe Saronni in 1979.
On the stage, Alessandro Petacchi extended his modern Giro record for stage wins to 8, ahead of Marco Zannotti in 2nd.
Cunego's GC lead was attacked, by Saeco teammate Gilberto Simoni among others, on Saturday, but Sunday's flat stage was more of a coronation.
Serhiy Honchar finished in second overall, 2:02 back, while 2001 and 2003 Giro winner Simoni was 3rd.
"His future is incredible, he can win many races. He's already four or five years ahead of the others," said Saeco's sport director, Giuseppe Martinelli. "He's not your typical rider. He's a strong climber, but has a quick sprint.
Petacchi on the stage win record:
"The first win was a liberation and the last was something special, but all the victories were important," Petacchi told Reuters after leading the pack home again on Sunday.
"After three weeks of racing and all the mountain stages I was very tired, but I was pleased the way I won the sprint. I had another great lead-out from my teammates and Zanotti and the other sprinters were well behind me at the line."
VeloNews on the internecine squabble between teammates Simoni and Cunego:
Though team officials tried to play it down, the split within the Saeco team has been the major story in the Italian press.
"Cunego deserved to win this Giro," Martinelli insisted. "He proved he was the strongest and the team supported him. For him to win is incredible. No one expected it."
Following Cunego's Saturday-morning press conference, Saeco riders and staff dressed in pink to pose for a picture - except Simoni, who refused to join the love fest. One newspaper reported Simoni would try to break his final year with Saeco to join another team, possibly Quick Step or his former team Lampre.
It's certain that the two men will not ride this year's Tour de France together, whether as teammates or as rivals - Cunego says he might not tackle that grand tour until 2006. As for Simoni, he refused to talk about the upcoming Tour. Part of his plan for the 2004 season was to come into the Giro fresher with the idea to be stronger in July.
"I don't want to think about the Tour. I've been racing for 20 days, and all I want to do is go home and see my family," Simoni said. "After that I'll come up with some plan to conquer the world."
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