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Giro d'Italia squad of the day: Stage 13 - Nippo-Vini Fantini

The Giro d'Italia has reached its 16th stage. (Image: Giro Rosa).
Roar Rookie
20th May, 2016
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Today’s team of the day is Nippo-Vini Fantini, one of the two fluoro-clad Italian wildcard teams at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Enjoy!

Who are their sponsors?
Nippo are a Japanese-based provider of materials used in the construction of roads, especially automotive racetracks and large infrastructure projects like airports.

Vini Fantini are a distributor of wines from the Abruzzo region east of Rome, a relative rarity given that Italian cycling and its sponsors traditionally gravitates towards the north of the country.

Nationality: Italian

Rider for today’s stage
Today’s 13th stage leaves from the town Palmanova near Italy’s eastern border with Slovenia, taking in two Category 1 climbs and two Category 2 climbs in the space of 156 kilometres, before a screaming 14-kilometre descent into the town of Cividale del Friuli. The total distance covered is 170 kilometres.

With lots of mountain points available for those willing to infiltrate the breakaway, let’s focus on the current wearer of the maglia azzurra: Damiano Cunego.

There are four riders at this year’s Giro who have won the race before – general classification favourites Vincenzo Nibali and Ryder Hesjedal, Nibali’s domestique Michele Scarponi and Nippo Vini-Fantini’s Damiano Cunego.

The man nicknamed ‘The Little Prince’ stormed into the forefront of cycling in 2004, winning the Giro d’Italia and the Giro di Lombardia and finishing the year atop the world rankings at the tender age of 22.

After such a dominant display big things were expected of the Italian, but his career after 2004 hasn’t measured up to the promise he showed that year.

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It’s not as though he hasn’t had success since then – he finished in the top ten of the Giro d’Italia in 2006, 2007 and 2012, won the Giro di Lombardia twice more in 2007 and 2008, the Amstel Gold Race in 2008, and finished seventh overall at the 2011 Tour de France.

However, he hasn’t been anywhere near the epicentre of Italian cycling since then, which may be attributable to rumours that he was riding clean in an era of cycling that had its fair share of doping controversies.

Now 34 years old, Cunego has long since abandoned any pretence of contending for the overall, but his aggression on the climbs thus far in the Giro paint a picture of a man keen to snare the mountains prize by the time the final stage finishes in Turin – he has more than twice as many points as his next nearest contender.

Unsung hero
Aside from Cunego’s lead in the mountains classification, Nippo-Vini Fantini also lead another competition at the Giro thanks to Giacomo Berlato: the premio della fuga (breakaway prize), one of the most unique and least understood classifications in professional cycling.

Riders receive one point towards the premio della fuga for every kilometre they spend in a breakaway at the front of the race. And thanks to the two days Berlato spent in the breakaway on the two road stages in the Netherlands at the start of the Giro, he’s racked up a total of 406 points thus far.

Given that smaller teams like Nippo-Vini Fantini often rely on being present in breakaways to maximise their TV time and increase their chance of a stage win, you can bet on seeing Berlato at the front of the Giro again before the race ends. Even if there’s not too much chance of it turning into a stage win, the 10,000 euro prize for the overall winner of the premio della fuga should provide plenty of incentive.

Team objective
The final maglia azzurra of the mountains classification of the leader for Cunego, and as much TV time as they can possibly soak up by getting riders in breakaways. The whole team was put on the front of the peloton on a stage last week to bring back a break that didn’t contain a Nippo-Vini Fantini rider.

Reason to cheer
This is the biggest race this team will get to do all year, so they’re hungry for results, and at their best they have enough ambition to bridge the gap in talent between them and the top-flight teams.

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Their De Rosa bikes are also a callback to an older era of cycling – proudly handmade in Italy in an era where most bikes have shifted their production to Taiwan.

Reason to jeer
For an Italian team, the colour combination of bright orange, navy blue and green on their jerseys isn’t something you’ll see on any Milanese runways in the near future.