Italians who need to win: Ballan, Bennati, Cunego & Pozzato

Damiano Cunego, Vuelta a Espana 2009, stage 14

Italy's last win in one of the major international classics came nearly two years ago. And even further back if you do not count the win of Davide Rebellin at the 2009 Flèche Wallonne (remember, he tested positive at the 2008 Olympics and really should not have been racing).

Damiano Cunego won the Tour of Lombardy in the fall of 2008, one of cycling's five monumental classics. Alessandro Ballan won another monument, the Tour of Flanders, in 2007. Both, however, passed 2010 without wins.

And then there are riders like Daniele Bennati and Filippo Pozzato. Bennati should be winning classics like Milan-San Remo, Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours, but since 2008, has not been at his best. Pozzato has come close in Paris-Roubaix and Flanders, but his last classic he has won was the E3 Prijs in 2009.

Today, their national sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, highlighted their failures and their need to perform better in 2011.

"Amstel, Flèche and Liège are my races. This year, they are my major goals," said Cunego. "My training is going very well; I am happy and calm."

Cunego and some of his Lampre-ISD team-mates are now working with the Mapei Centre. Cunego changed from riding on his fixed gear bike this winter to using more SFR exercises, Salite-Forza-Resistenza or strength and resistance training on climbs.

This year, he will start earlier than ever at the Tour of Reggio Calabria at the end of this month. Along the way, he will be in direct contact with Roberto Damiani, who is slated to leave Omega Pharma and join Lampre as a sports director after Milan-San Remo.

Between illnesses and doping investigations, Ballan has done very little since winning the World Championships in 2008.

"I want to return to how it was in 2007 and 2008. You know well that my goal is Flanders, a beautiful race, and Roubaix, a historical monument," said Ballan.

"A season for redemption? Yes, without a doubt. I am in good company with Bennati and Cunego."

Ballan will start his season with team BMC Racing on January 16, at the Tour Down Under.

Bennati, unlike Cunego and Ballan, won last year. His wins came at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Oman, certainly not at the same level as 2007 and 2008 when he won at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

"I can't wait to start my season," Bennati explained, "and forget last season."

His season was hampered by muscle injuries. This year, he is ready for a change, starting with a new team. He leaves Liquigas and will be presented with the new Luxembourg-based team on Thursday. He will be the team's top sprinter, aiming for Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem, Grand Tour stages and the Worlds.

Pozzato escaped La Gazzetta dello Sport's criticism today, but his one win last year at the Giro d'Italia did not make his season a success.

"I know that I let down everyone who had expected more from me," he said in December. "I hope next year will be the right year for me to enter the Roubaix velodrome solo."

The last two years, Pozzato has placed in the top 10. His best Roubaix finish was in 2009, the sole chaser after Fabian Cancellara's winning attack.

As they say in Italian, buona fortuna ragazzi ('Good luck boys').

Related links

Florence to bid for 2014 Tour start

2011 UCI World Calendar

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.