Trek Factory Racing will be totally devoted to Frank Schleck in Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the team will try to create a selective race that will suit their Luxembourgish climber. Julian Arredondo will play a joker role while Andy Schleck will trying to get through the race despite suffering from a knee injury.
It’s considered the ‘old lady’ of the five Monuments and La Doyenne(the oldest) includes a few select changes in celebration of its 100th edition. Race organizer ASO revealed that the 262.9-kilometer race will include all the climbs that have shaped the history of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and there will be a special sprint in Bastogne, at kilometer 100, with a €5000 prize going to the winner.
Similar to previous editions, there will be 10 significant côtes, with nine of them in the return trip from Bastogne after 100 kilometers of racing, and the last five in the final 62 kilometers. No matter how you change these around, it’s the sheer length of the race paired with the successive ups and downs in the latter stages that zap the legs - and wills - of the riders. In the end, same as all the Monuments, it will come down to the strongest riders. There is no hiding in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and this year will be no different.
“It never happens in Liège that it is a really big group at the end,” agreed director Kim Andersen. “Certainly, we will hope to have a small group, and have Fränk [Schleck] in that, that would be a good situation for us. There are plenty of strong riders to follow, but Fränk may also be able to make a move. We have riders that can help make an attack, and the team is ready to work to help make a selective group. For us, the idea is to come with a small group at the end.”
The outward-bound trip from Liège is a relatively direct shot south, and after the U-turn - and the new ‘centennial’ sprint - in Bastogne, the race heads back north in a meandering, undulating route to finish on a gradual uphill in the Liège suburb of Ans. With half of the categorized climbs pushed into the last portion of the race after 200 kilometers have been raced, the “crunch time” begins with Côte de La Redoute (2km at 8.9%) with 44.5 kilometers to go. The final explosion - if it has not already happened - will likely be on the ultimate climb, Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km at 8.6%), which crests 5.5 kilometers from the finish. And, if that did not thin things out, the last 1.5-kilometer uphill drag to the finish in Ans should.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the third and final race of the Ardennes Classics, and is also the most prized to win. Andy Schleck took those honors in 2009. However, this year he returns nursing an injured right knee, a result of crashing in Amstel Gold Race, which also forced him to quit Flèche Wallonne. Nevertheless, Andy Schleck will take the start line this Sunday in his favorite race, and although he may not be at his best, his experience and climbing prowess will still be instrumental to the team. Joining him are Fränk Schleck, Julian Arredondo, Fabio Felline, Bob Jungels, Matthew Busche, Fumy Beppu, and Calvin Watson.
Trek Factory Racing will be looking to the on-form Fränk Schleck as the undisputed leader, with Julian Arredondo (11th in Flèche Wallonne) a possible dark horse. However, sport director Kim Andersen was cautious when talking about his Colombian climbing talent, citing that the length of the Monuments is significant, and not to be underestimated.
“Fränk is our leader, and perhaps Julian will be okay on Sunday but it may be a little too long for him,” he said. “He is not used to doing such long and hard races. Flèche [Wallonne] was 200k and 60k more is a lot - this is what makes the race so special. We have a good team around Fränk, they are young, excited and hungry to race. We still have to sit down and discuss the specific race tactics, but the team will be riding for Fränk. I can say that I am really looking forward to Sunday.”
The only hindrance to the team’s plans will be the weather, and right now that is not looking to be favorable, explained Andersen.
“The weather could be a problem on Sunday,” he added. “Right now it does not look so good with rain and cold. First of all, Fränk has not done one race in the rain this year. And when you have been away from racing for a long time like he has you don’t know where your limits are in the rain. Even if you have trained in the rain it is not the same. And also with the cold – he is very skinny – and it’s often a problem, and has been a problem in the past, so we hope for the best with the weather, and then we will see.”
So if the gods are smiling on Sunday, and the sun is shining, then all that remains is for Fränk Schleck to end his run of ill fortune, something that has plagued him often this season.
“And of course with Fränk, with all his bad luck with crashes and punctures at the wrong moments in so many races this year - well one day this will stop,” smiled Andersen.
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