2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: The final rite of spring
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: The final rite of spring

by Steve Jones at 2:46 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège

The spring Classics will come to an end in the Ardennes this Sunday with 96th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.  The 258 kilometer race will provide the last opportunity for teams to salvage their Classics campaign before changing focus to the Grand Tours.  Often referred to as La Doyenne because it is the oldest Classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège has a history which dates back to 1892 when it was first run as an amateur event.   This time around Liège will have a modified parcours from previous years due to road construction:  Out are the Haute-Levée and Vecquée climbs, which have been replaced by the Col du Maquisard that appears with 60 kilometers to race and the Mont-Theux five kilometers later.

It would be hard not to again pick Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) as the top favorite for tomorrow’s race.  Seven days ago he took a convincing win at the Amstel Gold Race, and in this Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne he showed his mental toughness and power with a strong finish on the steep Mur de Huy, a climb that doesn’t suit his characteristics.  The climbs in Liège-Bastogne-Liège will suit Gilbert well, so the climbers will look to wear him down and leave him behind to have a chance at glory.  When Gilbert went on his rampage last fall, which included wins in the Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia Classics, he showed that he was capable of sustaining his form long enough to better his fourth place finish of last year.

Two-time Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Alejandro Valverde will arguably be Gilbert’s biggest threat for victory.  Assuming the pair survive the onslaught from the climbers, the Spaniard will likely be the only rider left capable of passing the Belgian in a two-up sprint.  In a typical race the hands down favorite in a sprint between the two would be Valverde, but as Gilbert showed in last year’s Paris-Tours Classic, even long flat kilometers can turn the tables on a superior sprinter.  While Valverde should still have the upper hand on the race’s final climb, the tactical advantage will be in favor of the Belgian.

Saxo Bank’s duo of Andy and Frank Schleck will be primed for action tomorrow, with the former out to defend his title from 2009.  Both riders have shown that they have good form this year in the previous Ardennes Classics, but haven’t been able to convert any of their attacks into success.  While the pressure has largely been taken off the team with Fabian Cancellara’s domination in the cobbled Classics, Saxo Bank is still without a replacement sponsor for next year, and the brothers could use a boost of morale going into their final preparations for the Tour de France.

The Astana team will have a potent combination with Alberto Contador and 2005 race winner Alexandre Vinokourov.  This will be the first time the pair has raced together since Contador’s collapse caused by allergies in the Critérium International.  While the Spaniard is certainly capable of winning tomorrow, he may well use Liège-Bastogne-Liège to pay back Vinokourov for his efforts last month, as well his expected support for the Tour de France in July.  The Kazakh is fresh off a win at the Giro del Trentino, where he won the opening prologue and was able to maintain his advantage with strong rides through the mountains of Italy.

After an impressive win in La Flèche Wallonne, World Champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is also likely to figure into the top end of the results tomorrow.  While most put the Australian’s transformation in mentality square on his win in Mendrisio, Switzerland last year, arguably his change goes as far back to June at the Dauphiné Libéré.  He finished second in the French race to Valverde, but there he laid the foundations for a new attitude that Stephen Roche sums up best: “you have to be willing to risk losing in order to win”.  Evans personified that in last year’s Dauphiné, attacking both Contador, who finished the race in third, and Valverde relentlessly while both struggled to cover his aggression.  The congratulatory gesture the Spaniards gave one another after holding off Evans on the race’s final challenge marked the day it was clear he was starting to break through.  A dismal Tour de France followed by an unlucky, yet successful, Vuelta a España set him up for his victory at Worlds, with the change in teams washing away any past demons.

The Katusha team has been on the cusp of a big result in the previous two Ardennes Classics and, if they have a little luck, could come away from Liège having done some serious spring cleaning.  With the formidable trio of Joaquin Rodriguez, Sergei Ivanov and Alexandr Kolobnev, who finished the race second, fifth and ninth on different teams last year, missing out on the podium would be tough to take for the squad.  Rodriguez finished second behind Evans in La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday, while Ivanov and Kolobnev have shown their strength with attacks in the closing kilometers.

There are many riders that have demonstrated they are capable of taking a surprise win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège tomorrow.  Chris Horner (RadioShack), the Garmin-Transitions pair of Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) will all be respected by the top favorites.  Sylvain Chavanel and Stijn Devolder will both be riding for Quick Step’s honor, with the latter looking to redeem himself after a disastrous spring.  Outsiders would include the Team Sky combination of Thomas Löfqvist and Bradley Wiggins, while Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) also looks to be fit and has made the race a main objective.

Tomorrow’s  route will show its teeth on the way back from Bastogne, where the kilometers will begin to weigh heavy on the legs as the peloton takes in the meat of race’s ten major climbs.  Last year, the winning move was made by Andy Schleck on the race's penultimate climb, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons.  He passed a fading Philippe Gilbert on the way to his finest victory to date.  The Côte de la Redoute, 15 kilometers prior to Schleck’s decisive move will also whittle down the front group as they make their approach to the finish.  The final climb in the Liège suburb of Ans has the potential to grind the win away from an escape, leaving every meter of the finale with its say in who will close out the spring with success.

Climbs of the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège:
Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne (69 km): 2.8 km at 4.9%
Côte Saint-Roch (116 km): 800 m to 12%
Côte de Wanne (km 159): 2.7 km at 7%
Côte de Stockeu (km 166): 1.1 km to 10.5%
Col du Rosier (km 186): 6.4 km to 4%
Maquisard Pass (km 198): 2.8 km at 4.5%
Mount Theux (km 209): 2.7 km at 5.2%
Côte de la Redoute (km 223): 2.1 km at 8.4%
Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (km 238): 1.5 km at 9.9%
Cote Saint-Nicolas (252 km): 1 km to 11.1%


The 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège route:

The route profile:

The final kilometer:



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