By Gregor Brown in Como
Damiano Cunego marked Lance Armstrong as favourite number one for the 2009 Giro d'Italia following his victory in the Giro di Lombardia Saturday. The Italian of Team Lampre, 27, ranked the seven-time Tour de France champion over Ivan Basso.
"There will be lot of dangerous rivals there, and next year there will be an additional one with Lance Armstrong. Ivan Basso? Armstrong gives me more fear," said Cunego.
Cunego won the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and the best young rider's maillot blanc in the 2006 Tour de France, but he has never faced the American Armstrong in a Grand Tour. Cunego would like to repeat his first Giro victory in 2009, when the Giro d'Italia celebrates 100 years since its first edition.
"Certainly, the Giro will be ridden because it is the centenary, and you need Italians there to contest it."
In 2006, Cunego faced and lost to a dominant Basso, who will be back after serving a 16-month ban for doping. Basso will target the 2009 Giro d'Italia along with Armstrong and Cunego.
"We all know Armstrong and his palmarès seven Tours. If he comes to the Giro he will be the number one favourite. He will not come here for a vacation; he will be here to win."
Armstrong criticised Cunego's stage racing capabilities prior to the 2008 Tour de France. He claimed Cunego is not suited for the French race "He'll never win the Tour" but a battle will hard fought on Cunego's home turf.
"I am not [a certainty] for the Grant Tours according to some, but I will try to silence those people," Cunego commented Saturday.
Cunego's win in the Giro di Lombardia on Saturday was his second one-day Classic win of 2008. The win was also his third in the race in addition to 2004 and 2007.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of Lance Armstrong's comeback
January 18, 2009 - Armstrong announces start of Catlin's drug testing programme
January 8, 2009 - Armstrong impresses Carmichael prior to Tour Down Under
January 7, 2009 - Armstrong believes Team Astana can dominate Tour
December 10, 2008 - Merckx: Armstrong's return good for cycling and Giro
December 8, 2008 - Armstrong climbs Teide
December 6, 2008 - Rast on life with Armstrong
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong considers Tour of Ireland
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong: Contador is the best
December 4, 2008 - Horner unites with Armstrong despite past differences
December 3, 2008 - Armstrong and Contador ride separate paths towards Tour
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong surfs with Astana
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong plans to race Tour
December 1, 2008 - Armstrong's anti-doping testing program pending
November 23, 2008 - Media out of love with Armstrong?
November 22, 2008 - Andreu caught up in Armstrong fight again
November 19, 2008 - Armstrong concerned about Tour safety
November 17, 2008 - Armstrong to meet with ASO
November 9, 2008 - Armstrong racing in Texas again
November 7, 2008 - Exclusive Armstrong wind tunnel video
November 7, 2008 - Lance Armstrong speaks at Web 2.0 conference
November 6, 2008 - Carmichael dials in Armstrong's comeback training
November 5, 2008 - Armstrong looking for balance
November 5, 2008 - Photos from Armstrong's wind tunnel test
November 3, 2008 - Armstrong doubles up and heads to wind tunnel