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“Liège is really different mainly because of the distance. Fifty extra kilometres makes it really hard on the legs. Whatever the course, Liège has always been one of the toughest races."

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade










25.04.2015 @ 23:34 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The Ardennes Classics week promises to finish in style with the 101st edition of Liège-Bastogne Liège Sunday. Here’s the lastest news from the injured, the favourites and the promising French contenders…
Last Wednesday, the Flèche Wallonne was the scene of quite a few upsets among the favourites. After crashing, the way back to recovery has been rather troublesome for Philippe Gilbert, struggling with a knee injury. The last Belgian winner of La Doyenne confirmed in the afternoon that he would be at the start of his favourite race without however knowing what he is capable of: “I rode a bit this morning and I still feel pain behind my knee, that hasn’t improved. I’ll be present but probably not to win. To be a contender, you need to be at 100%. I will continue recovering until tomorrow morning, and we’ll see what I can manage”. Winner of the race in 2013, Dan Martin also had to quit la Fleche prematurely. The Irishman however feels optimistic and hope to be back at his best: “It was just pure bad luck on Wednesday. I’m just happy to be at the start. I’ve trained so hard for this race. I have to try and make the most of it. I haven’t thought about a game plan. I hope to be in the front but it’s hard to know. I really don’t know what’s going to happen during the race tomorrow. The legs are fine. The body is fine, but my neck is very painful. It’s improved every day but spending 6 hours on a bike could make it worse and force me to stop.”
The different scenarios could influence the racing qualities of the potential winners. But to win Liège, one has to know how to fight, climb and sprint. Quite a few riders on the starting list of the 101st edition have all three assets, including the recent winner of the Fleche Wallonne who celebrated his 35th birthday today. For Alejandro Valverde, the situation isn’t as favourable as expected: “Liège is really different mainly because of the distance. Fifty extra kilometres makes it really hard on the legs. Whatever the course, Liège has always been one of the toughest races. The Redoute is obviously a key place. It’s a first good filter that only a few riders manage to go through, but the Roche-aux-Faucons is where things break. Eventually Saint-Nicolas is theoretically where the race is decided’’. Winner of the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, Michal Kwiatkowski is precisely a man who can adapt to all types of scenarios: “It’ll depend on the plans of the big favourites like Valverde. We’ll see if they want to control and decide it on a sprint. We have to keep an eye on all the big riders. A guy like Nibali will want to attack before because he can’t count on his sprint. I’m a guy who can sprint so for sure I’ll be waiting until the final. Having Stybar and Alaphilippe is really important for me. There are always attacks, not necessarily from favourites, and if you can’t control them, you need to gamble. I can’t follow everyone so it’s good to have someone else in the front to play different cards”. In case of a final sprint, the Pole will have to keep an eye on the title-holder, Simon Gerrans who struggle with major issues since the start of the season (collarbone and elbow): “I feel great. I feel fresh. Of course, having bib number 1 makes me a marked man, but I don’t think I think I have more pressure than last year”.
The French riders all dream of a win on a monument, especially like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But looking at the race’s victory list, one has to go way back to 1980 to see the likes of a winning Frenchman. At the time Bernard Hinault had beaten both his rivals and the snow to capture one of the most spectacular wins ever. After capturing a great 7th spot at the Amstel Gold Race and an even more impressive 2nd spot at the Fleche Wallonne, young Julian Alaphilippe is a man to keep an eye on for a possible French success in Ans. “It’s a legendary race. We all dream of winning it. Why not tomorrow? But my first goal here is to do my work for Kwiatkowski. Of course my past results have given me confidence. I hope to have well recovered. When you’re in the team of the World Champion, you can’t hope for a leader’s position with just a good result. We’ll see what I’m able to do”. With more experience, Tony Gallopin has earned himself the status of a leader in the Lotto-Soudal squad: “My team has given me responsibilities. I’m up for it. I feel I’m stronger and have far more experience. I believe I’m at 100%. It’s all been going really well: the training, the races before… I showed I could fight for victory. I haven’t had great results here in the past. But I love the course. I hope to fight for victory in Ans and not be dropped on Saint-Nicolas like in the past. Also part of the promising French clan, Romain Bardet chose the Tour of Trentino (9th) to prepare for Liège-Bastogne-Liège: “I’m very confident after the work I did. I took it easily on the final stage to keep energy for Sunday’s race. I hope it’ll be an offensive race and that a pack of 70 riders will remain bunched before the final climb. With Pozzovivo, we have the same assets and it’s a good thing to have several cards to play in the team”.
7600 riders took part this morning in the 5th edition of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge, under the eyes of a prestigious spectator. Indeed Eddy Merckx, winner of La Doyenne on five occasions between 1969 and 1975 was present to encourage the riders as they took off from Les Halles des Foires in Liège. On the day’s menu: the climbs up la Redoute, la Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint-Nicolas and three possible distances to be covered: 76 km, 156 km or the ultimate challenge, the same 253 kms that the pro peloton will take on Sunday. 43 different nationalities were represented at the start of the demanding race under heavy rain that however didn’t discourage the courageous riders.



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