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Damiano Cunego withdraws from Tour of the Basque Country

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) will not start Friday’s fifth stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco. The “Little Prince” was dropped midway up Thursday’s first-category summit finish, crossing the line 1:43 behind winner Samuel Sanchez.

Cunego said his priority now is to get ready for the Ardennes classics.

“I thought I could do better, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t at the same level as the other riders in the race,” Cunego said in a team release. “I came here to race, which wasn’t part of my schedule, to work hard to recover the lost time I had from an illness.

“The objectives are the Ardennes classics and I need to compete against the best riders,” he said. “After (Thursday’s) stage, I was not up high on GC and there’s a time trial Saturday that does not favor me. So I thought the best thing I could do is go home.”

So far this season, the 2004 Giro champ won a stage and finished third overall at the Giro di Sardegna, eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico and third at Montepaschi Strade Bianchi.