#9 – Lampre (Preview Ranking: #15)
What We Said:
Poor Lampre. Not only did they lose one of their best riders this past off-season—former World Champion and Tour of Flanders winner Alessandro Ballan—but they also almost didn’t even make it to the Pro Tour without the help of some last-minute legal wrangling. Ballan’s departure takes away a contender for the cobbled classics and a stage winner in Grand Tours. Alessandro Petacchi and Danilo Hondo—quite possibly the oldest and most suspicious lead-out train ever assembled—add some sprint speed, giving Lampre its first legitimate sprinter since Jan Svorada.
But let’s face it, this is a team built around Damiano Cunego, a man who needs to dial-in his training a bit more to ensure his peaks line-up with his goals. The first order of business for Cunego—if he can stay healthy and avoid more falls like the one suffered recently in the Ruta del Sol—is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a race he’s been “targeting” for years. If he wins, Lampre’s spring is an overwhelming success. From there, maybe the Giro and/or Tour beckon for Cunego; perhaps he steals a stage win or two before building once again for the autumn classics—and possibly Worlds.
Cunego has the talent to win races in a fashion similar to Alejandro Valverde; their impending showdown in the Ardennes will be a treat if they both arrive in form. The risk with Cunego is his inability to stick to his targets—or hit them squarely. He often peaks too early, something he’ll need to avoid in order to win Liege or the Tour of Lombardy. Hopefully he learned his lessons after 2009.
Man of the Hour: Without a doubt, Damiano Cunego.
On the Hot Seat: Giuseppe Saronni’s the man behind Lampre, and if he wants to keep his team in good shape he’ll need to do a better job than he did this past off-season. Essentially trading Ballan for Petacchi and Hondo is a bit of a desperate move; in effect trading quality wins for a quantity of wins. That might work for some, but when your title sponsor’s been backing you for over 20 years, they have a right to expect more.
Up-and-Comer: Diego Ulissi turns pro this year after several years as an amateur in Italy. Only 20-years-old, Ulissi’s best known for winning the Junior World Road Race Championship in both 2006 and 2007. The only other person to do that? Giuseppe Palumbo. Here’s hoping Ulissi makes a better pro than he did.
Best Pick-Up: He might have lost a step or two, but Alessandro Petacchi’s not entirely washed-up. He’ll earn Lampre wins on home soil, hopefully adding one or two more Giro stage wins to his total. Aside from the Giro, domestic one-day and stage races are his bread and butter now; the presence of Hondo gives him a lead-out man the lesser Italian competition will be hard-pressed to overcome
Biggest Loss: Losing Alessandro Ballan takes away the first half of Lampre’s one-two punch for the spring classics, and further isolates team leader Damiano Cunego in fall races like the Vuelta and the Tour of Lombardy. If Ballan takes another Flanders—or better still, Paris-Roubaix—for BMC, Saronni will have a lot of explaining to do.
What We Saw:
Believe it or not, Lampre won 20 races in 2010—an impressive achievement when you consider that the team’s most talented rider didn’t win a race.
Indeed, Damiano Cunego—a man from whom much was expected—failed to deliver the goods. The Ardennes classics? Nothing. The Giro d’Italia? Niente. The Tour? Rien. Worlds? He wasn’t even selected. Even worse, there’s hardly any identifiable explanation for the first season-long shut-out of the Italian’s career. Luckily for Lampre, there were others able to pick-up the slack.
First and foremost among them was Alessandro Petacchi. By March 1st, the Italian had taken four wins—the team, six. Yet, despite this early success, it still seemed as if Petacchi would still fail to contend against the world’s fastest—a fact that was apparently confirmed when Petacchi was unable to come through with a win at Tirreno-Adriatico. He then took third at Milan-San Remo—a good result, but not one that forced people stand up and take notice.
By early April, it should have been time for Damiano Cunego to be round himself into form for the Ardennes by competing at the Tour of the Basque Country. Instead, it was Francesco Gavazzi who took the honors for Lampre, winning one stage and finishing second in another. And the classics? Well, let’s just say they weren’t the highlight of Lampre’s season. The team lacked any sort of presence in the cobbled races, and Cunego failed to seriously contend in the Ardennes.
At May’s Tour of Romandie though, Lampre found its legs again as Gavazzi, Danilo Hondo, and Simon Spilak all performed well on several stages. In fact, thanks to his impressive second-place ride on Stage 5, Spilak was awarded both a stage victory and the overall title following Alejandro Valverde’s suspension.
But in the Giro, Lampre went winless—despite the fact that it brought just about all of its top riders. Cunego made an effort on Stage 7, finishing second; and Hondo went out for a day in the break in Stage 17, finishing second as well at Pejo Terme. As for Petacchi, he managed no better than fifth on Stage 2 before abandoning at the end of the first week.
In other words, by June, Lampre was exactly where we expected them to be—if not a little worse. They had won a handful of races—mostly in Italy—but had failed in the Ardennes and the Giro. There was little reason to expect anything but more of the same come summer.
At the Dauphiné though, the team showed signs of life again, with Grega Bole taking Stage 1 and finishing third on Stage 3. (He would go on to take 2 stages at the Tour of Slovenia soon after.) At the Tour de Suisse, the other important pre-Tour event, Petacchi came out of what seemed like nowhere to win Stage 4, an indicator of what we would see come July.
Before the Tour de France, few seemed to consider Petacchi one of the two or three best sprinters in the race—and you would have won a lot of money had you bet on him to win the green jersey. But with stage wins on Stages 1 and 4, second-places on stages 11 and 20, and the green jersey in Paris, it’s safe to say we were all a bit shocked. (At least until allegations of doping surfaced.) As for the rest of the team, they did their best to share in Petacchi’s glory, with Cunego (a surprise starter) coming closest by finishing third on Stage 9.
From France, the team’s success moved to Poland, where Mirco Lorenzetto took a stage and Bole finished second overall after spending the week as one of the Pro Tour event’s main protagonists. Back in Italy, Hondo took second in the Coppa Bernocchi, while Gavazzi ended the month with a win in the prestigious Coppa Agostoni—all but assuring his place on Italy’s team for Worlds.
As autumn approached, Vuelta, Petacchi once again took a stage in a grand tour, his Vuelta stage win serving as a reminder of the scandal surrounding his impressive July. Meanwhile, Gavazzi continued to reveal himself as a one-day rider to watch, finishing well in the GP Plouay, the Giro della Romagna, the GP Quebec, and the GP Montreal.
The season ended with Diego Ulissi taking the team’s final win at the GP Industria Commercio di Prato (rewarding me for the faith I put in him earlier), while Angelo Furlan decided to revisit the podium for the first time since the Tour of Turkey—at Paris-Tours, no less.
Overall, while 2010 won’t go down as the best of times for Lampre, it certainly could have been worse. For 2011, I sincerely hope someone is working with Damiano Cunego to figure out whatever the heck went wrong this year. As for Petacchi, if he can somehow manage to avoid a doping conviction, he’s a front-runner for “Comeback Rider of the Year”.
Most Valuable Rider: At this point, Petacchi’s more of a liability than an asset, so I’m going with Francesco Gavazzi. The Italian won 3 races in 2010, most impressively, a stage at Pais Vasco. At 26-years of age, look for this talented youngster with a powerful finishing kick to start contending in some major one-day races, possibly giving Giuseppe Saronni a good reason to let Cunego go at some point should he fail to deliver.
Biggest Disappointment: Mi dispiace, Damiano, ma i risultati di quest’anno sono stati terribili. To add insult to injury, you tragically lost your new coach before you even had a chance to work with him. At least you’ve finally let go of your foolish grand tour dreams.
Biggest Surprise: Let’s give this one to Petacchi. At no point this spring did he appear to be someone still capable of winning grand tour field sprints—especially on multiple occasions in an event like the Tour de France. Even more impressive was his green jersey, an interesting achievement considering he never came to close winning one in his prime.
And that’s it for #9. Come back soon for more—share your comments below.