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Valverde spearheads the list of favourites for Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Photo: Sirotti


23.04.2015 @ 18:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Thirty-five candles on a birthday cake on Saturday will perhaps remind Alejandro Valverdethat he has entered the autumn of his career, but a second consecutive victory in FlècheWallonne this week represented the latest bloom in an Indian summer….and an extraordinary sequence of results in the Spring Classics.
In the Flèche-Liège double header, Valverde has now notched four straight podium finishes sinceFlèche in 2013. Already a winner in Liège in 2006 and 2008, the evergreen Murcian looks ideally placed to strike yet again on Sunday - and has certainly now emerged as the outstandingfavourite for “La Doyenne”.
Lining up to battle the Spaniard is a star-studded cast of characters, some of whom will have to overcome not only Valverde but some bruised bodies and egos after Flèche Wallonne. Philippe Gilbert and Daniel Martin both crashed heavily in Flèche, and it remains to be seen whether either can recover in time to challenge on Sunday. “There are five days to go until Sunday. It’s not the best preparation for Liège but it’s not the worst, either,” said Gilbert, somewhat obliquely, after his abandonment on Wednesday. Martin, the Liège champion in 2013, who last year tumbled as he led into the final corner, will also have to tend to his cuts and scratches before his latest bid.
For another strong contender, Vincenzo Nibali, the main worry is perhaps not physical but mental, given that his Astana team managers were due to meet the UCI Licence Commission for a second disciplinary hearing on Thursday afternoon. Fruitless but nonetheless impressive attacks in the closing kilometres of both the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne at least indicated that the reigning Tour de France champion’s fitness is building nicely. The same could be said of Joaquim Rodriguez, a Liège runner-up to Martin in 2013 and to Andy Schleck in 2009. Another rider who can boast form and strong Ardennes pedigree is the winner of last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race, Michał Kwiatkowski. And should the Pole misfire, as he did at Flèche, Etixx-Quickstep appear to have an able and prodigiously talented deputy in Julian Alaphilippe, the runner-up to Valverde on Wednesday.
One thing is guaranteed: the man standing atop the podium in Ans on Sunday afternoon, after 253 gruelling kilometres, will be a rider of the finest cru. Twelve months ago, Simon Gerransprevailed ahead of Valverde and Kwiatkowski. A few months after that, the same three riders, in a different order, took gold, silver and bronze in the world championship road race inPonferrada…
25 teams: the leaders
Orica-GreenEdge: Gerrans (Aus), Albasini (Swi), Yates (Gbr)
Lotto Soudal: Vanendert, Wellens (Bel), Gallopin (Fra)
Etixx-Quickstep: Kwiatkowski (Pol), Alaphilippe (Fra)
Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise: De Tier, Campenaerts (Bel)
Wanty - Groupe Gobert: Gasparotto (Ita)
Cult Energy Pro Cycling: Gerdemann, Wegmann (Ger)
AG2R La Mondiale: Betancur (Col), Nocentini, Pozzovivo (Ita), Bardet (Fra)
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Simon, Edet (Fra), Maté (Spa)
FDJ: Vichot, Jeannesson (Fra),
Team Europcar: Rolland, Voeckler (Fra), Arashiro (Jap)
Bora - Argon 18: Nerz (Ger), Mendes (Por)
Giant-Alpecin: Barguil (Fra), Dumoulin (Hol)
Team Sky: Nordhaug (Nor), Roche (Irl)
Lampre - Merida: Costa (Por), Ulissi (Ita)
Astana Pro Team: Nibali (Ita), Fuglsang (Den)
Team Lotto NL-Jumbo: Kelderman, Ten Dam (Hol)
Roompot Oranje Peloton: Hoogerland, Kreder (Hol)
Katusha Team: Rodriguez, Moreno (Spa)
Tinkoff-Saxo: Majka (Pol), Kreuziger (Cze)
Movistar Team: Valverde, Herrada, Izaguirre (Spa),
South Africa
MTN - Qhubeka: Van Rensburg, Meintjes (SA), Cummings (Gbr)
IAM Cycling: Frank, Reichenbach (Swi) 
BMC Racing Team: Gilbert, Hermans (Bel), Sanchez (Spa), Van Garderen (USA)
Team Cannondale-Garmin: Martin (Irl), Slagter (Hol), Formolo (Ita)
Trek Factory Racing : Mollema (Hol), Arredondo (Col), Felline (Ita), Schleck (Lux)



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