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“When I said that I had a perfect season, it was because I had finally won a Classic, the Flèche Wallone, then a Monument of a race, the Tour of Lombardy. What’s more, how many other Monuments of cycling can I realistical...

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JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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PIERRE ROLLAND

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13.04.2013 @ 08:06 Posted by Jesper Ralbjerg

Two diametrically opposed elite riders are set to be the leading protagonists in the grand week of the Ardennes Classics: Frenchman Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Spaniard Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha).

 

However, they do have one thing in common: their love for their sport, which constantly drives them on to surpass themselves in the run-up to Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well as the Grand Tours, which have provided them with their glory and fortune.

 

It is a veritable duel: north versus south, young versus old, blond versus brown, ice versus fire! For Pierre Rolland, 26, his breakaway on Liège-Bastogne-Liège in his first participation in the ‘old lady’ of the Classics was like a revelation: in 2008, wearing the colours of the Crédit Agricole team, having hit out in the early morning, he was only caught, initially by Andy Schleck, in Sprimont, 30 km from the “Ardent City”.

 

On that day, the native of Oleans described himself as “driven on by the crowds” and started to dream about “the major mountains stages with people everywhere”. The winner of the L’Alpe d’Huez stage in 2011 and the La Toussuire stage in 2012 discovered his talent for climbing on the slopes of the Ardennes.

 

The key moment for Joaquim Rodriguez, 33, dates back to last century: “In 1999, whilst I was a young amateur rider, I gave an interview to the magazine Ciclismo a Fondo in which I said I wanted to make my career in the Classics, which was rare at the time for Spanish riders,” remembers the Catalan.

 

“Nowadays” he points out, “I’m categorised as a Grand Tours rider, especially since last year, but what I like more than anything else are the Ardennes Classics”. In 2012, he climbed onto the podium on the Giro (finishing in 2nd place) and on the Vuelta (finishing 3rd) having been at the forefront of both races: he wore the pink jersey in Italy for ten days and the red jersey in Spain for thirteen days.

 

“However, at the end of the year,” explains last year’s winner of the UCI WorldTour, “when I said that I had a perfect season, it was because I had finally won a classic, the Flèche Wallone, then a Monument of a race, the Tour of Lombardy. What’s more, how many other Monuments of cycling can I realistically hope to win? Just one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

 

Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix do not suit his slight frame of 1.69 m and 57 kg. He takes care to avoid these events to optimise his preparation for the Ardennes Classics. With stage wins already under his belt at the start of this season on Green Mountain in the Tour of Oman and at Chieti in the Tirreno-Adriatico race, as well as second place (on home turf) on the Tour of Catalonia, the Katusha team climber has made a change in his approach to the Walloon Classic by giving a miss to the Tour of the Basque Country, a race in which he had taken part every year since 2005. If his absence seemed strange from what he calls the “classic of Spanish cycling”, including a finish in Eibar where he imprudently lost out to Alejandro Valverde on the last Vuelta, it was because he was on an intensive training camp at that very moment in time, on the slopes of the Teide Volcano in Tenerife, a now much sought after training venue by many riders.

 

As such “Purito” stayed away from the inclement weather whilst Pierre Rolland shivered along the roads of the Circuit of the Sarthe, in which he nonetheless brilliantly won the most prestigious stage (at the summit of the Mont des Avaloirs, the highest point in the west of France) and the general classification (for the first time in his career). The Europcar rider, who has chosen not to race the Flèche Wallone, carried out his preparations for the ‘Old Lady’ in the green setting of southern Normandy, picking up 3rd place on the Paris-Camembert race, before heading to the Tour of Trentino in Italy. “I prepare for Liège-Bastogne-Liège Italian style,” he smiles. “With Thomas Voeckler, we added 80 kilometres of training to the first stage of the Circuit of the Sarthe to replicate as much as possible the distance that we’ll have to tackle on Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This race has been on our mind since the start of the season. I’m feeling very strong. I’ve been working well and I’m at a good racing weight”.

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