Lampre is full of experienced veterans who will bring in plenty of good, if not spectacular, results. Lampre is full of aging riders on their last season of good results. Damiano Cunego will really be good this year (really!). Cunego, he's just going to disappoint people again. You could have made any of these statements at the beginning of the season and half the cycling world would have agreed with you. Lampre is a bit of a mystery - we never seem to know what to expect from them. After all, what other teams can have the same rider (Cunego) in their greatest highlights and lowlights?
So, what do we make of Lampre? Below the jump, guys and gals!
What We Expected
Once again, no predictions from last year to post here. But here's what I thought, at least. And I promise it's not post-hoc predictions!
- Petacchi will probably make a good run for the Green Jersey. He's getting older, but he wins more by being alert and cunning than crazy fast these days, so it shouldn't hurt him much.
- Cunego should find his classics legs this year, right? That talk about wanting to be a GC contendor pops up now and then, but I think we all thought that would come to little.
- Scarponi... is he going to show his age this year? If not, he'll podium in the Giro. If he does, then... Lampre will be left a-wanting.
What We Got
Welcome to the Scarponi and Cunego show! While the squad picked up wins here and there with other riders, these two easily brought the most attention to the squad (aside from Petacchi's bummer of a year, but more on that later). The two started early, both winning stages at the Giro di Sardegna. Scarponi continued to win a stage and third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico. In April, Cunego won the smaller one-day Giro dell'Appennino and Scarponi the overall at the Giro del Trentino. If you'll remember, in Trentino Scarponi broke away with Thomas Voeckler in a stage and let him take the victory in return for helping him gain time on the GC. Nice guy, this Michele.
I would be remiss to not mention Scarponi's ride in Milan-San Remo. After the bunch split on the descent of La Manie, he was the only person to bridge (solo!!) up to the charging front group. He even placed sixth. Sixth! Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't burned so many matches going across the one minute gap earlier? It was good that Scarponi had a good ride into San Remo, though, because Petacchi couldn't hold on as the lead group fractured on the Poggio.
Cunego remained consistent with his performances in past years - always showing talent, but never quite becoming the true star we expect him to. He did little in the Spring classics but had a sparkling performance in the Tour de Suisse where he lost the overall lead by a heart-wrenching four seconds in the final stage time trial. He also bettered Ivan Basso in the Tour de France, finishing 7th - an occurrence that few would have foreseen. It seems like Cunego's GC chops are growing, but just how much further he will develop there is a mystery. Really, you almost wish he hadn't won the Giro those many years ago because it's almost impossible to meet expectations.
The Giro went very well for Lampre, who came away with a second place overall by Michele Scarponi and a win on stage 17 by Diego Ulissi*. Speaking of Ulissi, he also won a stage and the overall at the Tour of Slovenia. Not a particularly star-packed race, but a hard one.
Ulissi highlights one of the less-recognized features of Lampre - its trio of promising young guns. Ulissi is 22, Adriano Malori is 23, and Grega Bole is 26. Between them, they earned seven of Lampre's wins. While they have to compete with a bevy of other Italian teams for the local talent, Lampre seems to be mining it decently well.
Finally, Petacchi seems to be on the downturn after a very long career as one of the best sprinters in the peleton. He won a stage of the Giro, but he only crossed the line in first on two other occasions, both of which were in SSRs. At 38, this is no surprise, but it seems time to accept his decline is quickening.
*Yeah, that stage where Visconti got all argy-bargy in the sprint and was regulated. But a win is a win, right...?
Top 3 Highlights
- Scarponi finishes second in the Giro. Italian squad, only being beat by Alberto Contador in your home grand tour? Yep, this was a pretty big deal, especially after an enthralling battle between Scarponi and
- Cunego's 7th in the tour and revival as a GC rider. As Chris said after the Tour, "What the...? Show me someone who saw this coming and I'll show you a liar. Or a member of the Cunego clan. Or both." He even beat Basso!
- Grega Bole wins GP Ouest-France. While not a classic, the GP Plouay (sp?) is one of the more prestigious one-day races. It's up and down all day long and while it sometimes ends in a bunch kick, it's usually a sprinter with some classics pedigree who wins on these occasions. Bole's win was one of the only one-day wins for the squad and showed promise for the development of an alternative to Cunego on this front.
Bottom 3 Lowlights
- Alessandro Petacchi's Tour campaign. Green jersey winner in 2010, almost nowhere to be seen in the sprints this year. A 2nd and 3rd on stages 7 and 15 were good results, but those were the only times he ever featured. Last year's consistency was simply gone.
- Cunego's classics campaign. Oft talked about as a potential winner of Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone, or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the little prince only managed 15th, 61st, and 16th respectively this year. No sign of the rider who has podiumed here in the past.
- Cunego losing the Tour de Suisse win on the last stage - a time trial - and by 4 seconds no less. After the way Cunego animated the race, it was a strong disappointment for both him and fans alike.
Where do They Go from Here?
Things aren't likely to change much at Lampre, aside from the annual "does Cunego want to be a GC or Classics guy?" storyline. Scarponi may have another year or two left in his legs - if so, he'll podium at the Giro again, perhaps even win it depending on who else comes. For Cunego... who really knows? The guy has talent, so he's sure to bring in some good results, but exactly where they will come is a mystery. He runs the risk of perpetually disappointing fans as few results will compare to his breakthrough win in the 2004 Giro.
Transfer season was not particularly kind to Lampre, but neither was it particularly bad. The boys in fuchsia suffered when they lost Gavazzi to Astana. Finally transforming his talent into victories, Gavazzi brought home stage wins in the Vuelta, the Volta a Portugal, and the Tour of the Basque Country. Fortunately for Lampre, though, Diego Ulissi stayed on board and looks to be more exciting than a 27-year-old sprinter in the long run. Ulissi, Grega Bole, and Adriano Malori are all talented young riders, so they offer longer-term prospects to replace Petacchi and Scarponi when they ride off into the sunset.
In short, don't expect to see the boys in pink in sprints this year. But in Italy? Watch out.
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sport