By Gregor Brown
Damiano Cunego, winner of the 2004 Giro d'Italia, will step back after 10 years at the top level with team Lampre-Merida. The Italian will join Nippo-Vini Fantini, which is pushing for a spot as a UCI Professional Continental-level team, and enrol in Verona's university to study sports science.
"My wife, who studies medicine, encouraged me," Cunego told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "The idea is to have a future as a sports coach."
The 33-year-old's transfer to Nippo was confirmed by La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper this morning. Besides the 2004 Giro d'Italia, Cunego also counts three Giro di Lombardia titles, the 2008 Amstel Gold and the young rider's classification from the 2006 Tour de France in his palmarès.
He has won few races since his 2011 Tour de Romandie stage win in Ramont, a stage in the 2012 Giro del Trentino and one in the 2013 Coppi & Bartali. He has gone winless in the 2014 season.
Nippo will use Cunego to make the leap from the third to second division, in the process passing from a Japanese to an Italy-registered team. Next year, it could race the Giro d'Italia by vying for one of the four wildcard invitations with other second division teams including Bardiani, Colombia and Androni.
"It's a good move," Lampre's team manager, Brent Copeland told Cycling Weekly, "Damiano needs new motivation."
His signing and others including 22-year-old Antonio Nibali, younger brother of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, will help the team make the leap from the third to second division for 2015. The team also signed Matteo Busato (26), Giacomo Berlato (22) and Nicolas Marini (21) will also join for 2015.
La Gazzetta dello Sport also reported earlier this week that team Sky is interested in Italians Sonny Colbrelli, who rides for Bardiani-CSF and placed 13th in the World Championship road race, Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and 18-year-old Filippo Ganna.
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