By Gregor Brown
Damiano Cunego previewed the Giro d'Italia's long time trial last week during a team Lampre training camp. The Italian believes that its technical aspects will keep him in the hunt for the overall race title, with Lance Armstrong (Astana) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas).
"I returned home satisfied with what I saw. It is hard, with two long climbs and then technical descents. It is certainly better than a flat and long time trial," Cunego told Cyclingnews from Team Lampre's training camp in San Vincenzo, Italy.
Cunego won the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and he said he is near certain to line up in 2009 to try for win number two. The time trial will be a key turning point for Cunego, who is not as skilled at the discipline as Armstrong and Basso. However, with the climbs of Passo del Bracco and Passo del Termine he will remain in the overall battle.
Cunego escaped the cold of northern Italy earlier this month to train for his season's goals in Tuscany with his teammates. He will return for a week at home today and then return south for another 10-day training block.
"We are getting some good training in and the weather is not so bad. Sunday was the first time I rode for six hours this year; 205 kilometres with climbs, some specific work, and a little bit of motor-pacing at the end."
Cunego noted the early start of his Giro rivals because of their previous long periods without racing. Armstrong and Basso both did not race last year. Cunego had a full 2008 season that included wins in the Amstel Gold, Giro di Lombardia and, late in the year, the Japan Cup.
"It is still too soon to read their condition," Cunego said.
He waned they will be a dangerous pair by the time the Giro d'Italia begins. "They are both similar riders, with the same type of motors and it means that alliances will need to be made."
He indicated he may side with rivals like Gilberto Simoni.
Cunego will make his season debut at the GP Etruschi on February 7. Basso and Armstrong will continue their programmes with the Tour of California, February 15 to 22.