Former Giro d'Italia champion Damiano Cunego makes no secret of his desire to win next year's edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the 28-year-old Italian aiming to consolidate his status as one of the world's best Classics riders.
Speaking at the Lampre team's presentation in Castenedolo, Italy, Cunego explained that he's taking aim at 'La Doyenne' ('the old lady') to add to his Amstel Gold victory in 2008.
"Everyone wants to win it, it's hard," Cunego told Cyclingnews. "I was close, third, in 2006 when Alejandro Valverde won ahead of Paolo Bettini. Every year I hope. If I win, good, but I have to have patience," he added.
Cunego won the 2004 Giro but in recent years has performed better in one-day races and taken stage victories of multi-week races. He won two stages at the Vuelta a España in September, mountainous days to Alto de Aitana and La Pandera, giving Lampre five of its 16 wins for the season.
The Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège - suit Cunego's ability to climb and manage technical courses and he took his only Ardennes title, the Amstel Gold, in 2008. He's finished in the top 10 in the oldest and longest of the three events, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, four times.
Cunego finished in seventh in this year's edition, with 24-year-old Saxo Bank rider Andy Schleck claiming his first Ardennes victory.
"Yes, but I won the Giro d'Italia right away, when I was 22," said Cunego. "Many say to me that I won too soon, but I disagree... it's better to have won such an important race than not at all."
Cunego said the riders presented Thursday night near Lampre's headquarters are going to make his goal possible. He welcomed old Saeco teammate Alessandro Spezialetti and climber Daniele Pietropolli to the 2010 team, and the continuation of teammates Marco Marzano, Daniele Righi and Francesco Gavazzi within the squad.
Countryman Enrico Gasparotto helped Cunego during the Spring, but left the Italian squad to join Alberto Contador's Astana team. Cunego said his departure would not affect the team.
"I can tell you the team will be stronger in 2010 than 2009. It is already a more united group," he explained.
Cunego starts his season at the Volta ao Algarve, February 17-21. He will use Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya to prepare for Vuelta a País Vasco and the Ardennes Classics in April.
"I am not going to go altitude training in Tenerife next year like I did in March," continued Cunego. "I prefer to race Paris-Nice and Catalunya. They will give me the rhythm that's needed for País Vasco and the Classics."
He will decide soon if he will race the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France, or both.