Damiano Cunego of Lampre-NGC won today his second stage in a row at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. The stage covered a hilly 163.4 kilometers between Borgo San Lorenzo and Serramazzoni. Cunego won from a group of eight riders ahead of Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto and Christian Pfannberger of Katusha, who proved unable to match Cunego's finishing speed. The Italian also took over the jersey of race leader, after Giovanni Visconti failed to make the selection on the final climb of the day.
After 18 kilometers of racing, an early break departed the main field. The break came just before the bunch finished four laps on a five kilometer circuit. Thirteen riders comprised the early move: Mario Aerts of Silence-Lotto (marking the move for Cadel Evans), Paolo Tiralongo of Lampre-NGC (ditto for Damiano Cunego), Kjell Carlstrom of Liquigas, Danilo Napolitano of Team Katusha (riding for Christian Pfannberger, Jurgen Van Goolen of Team Saxo Bank, Kanstantsin Sivtsov of Columbia-High Road, Matteo Montaguti of Lpr Farnese Vini, John Lee Augustyn of Barloworld, Marco Frapporti of Csf Group Navigare, Eddy Ratti of Amica Chips Knauf, Luca Celli of Diquigiovanni Androni, Maxim Belkov of ISD (marking the move for Visconti), and Enrico Rossi of Ceramica Flaminia. The break soon hit first and longest climb of the day, the Passo della Futa, approximately 800 meters of climbing over 15 kilometers. With the difficulty of the course clearly in mind, the main field granted the break little space to play.
The incessant climbing and descending took their toll on the thirteen member break, and soon only Enrico Rossi of Ceramica Flaminia and Marco Frapporti of CSF-Naviagare remained. The duo held a maximum gap of 4 minutes, before the combined efforts of race leader Giovanni Visconti's ISD team and Cunego's Lampre-NGC began to whittle down their advantage. On the short, steep climb of the Pavullo nel Frignano with 30 kilometers to ride, Frapporti lost the wheel of Rossi. Kanstantin Sivtsov of Columbia-High Road and Felix Cardenas soon joined Rossi and the group of three held just 16 seconds over the main field led by Lampre-NGC as they entered the first circuit at Serramazzoni.
With ten kilometers left to ride, only Cardenas remained of the breakaway. The bunch soon ended his hopes. Entering the final lap of the hilly finishing circuit, Christian Pfannberger of Katusha attacked the main field. Seven riders found the legs to follow the Austrian. The race winning move included Pfannberger, Cunego, Evans, Michael Rogers of Columbia-High Road, Robert Kiserlovski of Amica Chips Knauf, Gianpaolo Caruso of Ceramica Flaminia, Pierpaolo Tondo of Miche Silver Cross and Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez of Centri della Calzatura Marche. Behind, the group of race leader Giovanni Visconti chased hard, holding the gap at 15 seconds.
In the final kilometer, Cadel Evans attempted to anticipate the sprint. A wise choice, given the killer finishing speed of Cunego. The Italian countered the Evans attack, and took the stage win. Pfannberger finished third. Cunego also took over the lead in the general classification and the points classification.
After the stage, Cunego praised his team, for doing "everything they could possibly do." "The escape of 13 was dangerous," he explained, but he had confidence that his team could control the race. The Italian looks to be on screaming form for the upcoming Ardennes races.
Cadel Evans certainly thinks so. "Cunego is nearly at his maximum form, I am not yet," said the Australian. "Today, I wanted to win the stage, because between the unfortunate team time trial [where Silence-Lotto struggled with mechanicals and crazy weather] and yesterday with the escape of Cunego, it has gone badly," he explained. Evans attempted to pre-empt the sprint, but Cunego proved able to match his move, and better it. "I think that the tactic was right: The first attack to make the selection, the second to win. But I waited too long."
Fourth placed Robert Kiserlovski of Amica Chips also sees Cunego as the strongest. He's just happy to be there. "I am very happy to be among those at the front... I am only 22 years old," he said. Kiserlovski leads the young rider's clasification. Also clearly on form is Christian Pfannberger of Katusha. Pfannberger rode fabulously at last year's World Championship road race in Varese, and should have good form come the Ardennes.
Tomorrow's stage is flat, flat, flat, covering Massa 162.8 kilometers Finalese to Finnale Emilia, where an eight lap circuit awaits. A day for the sprinters.