Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Valverde fears Gilbert, Rodríguez doesn’t
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Valverde fears Gilbert, Rodríguez doesn’t

by Ben Atkins at 7:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
 
Spanish riders weigh up their rivals on the eve of la Doyenne

alejandro valverdeThe two Spanish favourites for Liège-Bastogne-Liège will certainly be watching one another during Sunday’s race. According to Sporza, however, what Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) don’t seem to agree on, is what kind of a threat they will receive from Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing). The World champion won the 2011 edition of la Doyenne, as part of a near-unbeatable season, but has not won a race in the Ardennes since; as a local rider, Gilbert has obviously targeted the race.

The withdrawal from the race of exhausted Brabantse Pijl winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has clearly simplified things for Valverde, but he still fears the strength of the World champion in his home race.

“I’m glad that Sagan is tired and not riding,” he told the Gazet van Antwerpen. “It makes it a little easier for me to go up against Gilbert; he is my biggest challenge.

“But there are still a dozen riders who are on the same level and have a chance,” he added. “I think of Rodríguez, [Katusha’s Flèche Wallonne winner Dani] Moreno, [Astana’s Giro del Trentino winner Vincenzo] Nibali, [Team Sky’s Flèche runner up Sergio] Henao…”

Whoever else is strong on Sunday, however, Valverde - who finished second to Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) in Amstel and seventh behind Moreno in Flèche - declares himself ready for the challenge.

“I’m ready for any eventuality,” he said. “I didn’t do too much to risk Liège in the Amstel Gold or in la Flèche Wallonne. This is the race that best suits my abilities. As a teenager I dreamed of Liège. I’m proud that I was the first Spaniard on the list of victors.

Valverde won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2006 and 2008, with the first of those victories coming as part of an Ardennes double with Flèche Wallonne. He also finished third in 2010, before being retrospectively disqualified for his involvement with Eufemiano Fuentes, as uncovered in Operación Puerto.

joaquim rodriguezRodríguez has won Flèche Wallonne, but his 2009 second place remains his best result in Liège, and disagrees with Valverde’s assessment of the World champion.

“I’m not afraid of Gilbert,” he said in the Gazet van Antwerpen. “He’s good, but not quite good enough.”

Instead of the Belgian, Rodríguez points firmly at his compatriot, whom he believes will be his biggest rival.

“Valverde is the favourite,’ Rodríguez said. “We are similar on the climbs and won’t be able to ride away from one another, but he is faster in the sprint.”

Rodríguez’ Ardennes season has been disrupted by a crash in Amstel Gold, which saw him withdraw from the race, and put his participation in Flèche and Liège in doubt. Despite a relatively lowly sixth in Flèche [where he was the defending champion, and had finished second in the two years before that - ed] behind teammate Moreno, he says that he was put the injury behind him.

“I still have a little pain, but once I’m warmed up it goes away,” he admitted. “Other than the crash my preparation for Liège was perfect. During Flèche Wallonne I was missing the right rhythm, but now I’m fine.”

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