What's Cool In Road Cycling

Lee’s Liège Lowdown: Valverde Dominance!

It’s been a busy week for Alejandro Valverde, the Astana team and Lee Rodgers; all for different reasons. Now that the dust (or street detritus) has settled on the roads of the Ardennes, Lee looks back on Flèche and Liège to give us his take on the Valverde ‘Domination’.

It was another close call with double-barreled embarrassment on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège as the men in Kazakh blue yet again missed out on a Classics win despite taking over the television screens for most of the 253 km race. It’s amazing what the threat of being kicked out of cycling will do for a team. Maybe Trek Factory Racing could give it a try. At least it’s a change from being charged up on EPO and HGH, and no doubt healthier for the riders too, if they can stand the embarrassment, which I am sure Jakob Fuglsang can.

tdf2014stage17-fuglsangJakob Fuglsang, not know to keep his head down

From a pure tactical point of view however, Astana’s tactics were most impressive, sending Grivko off up the Côte de Stockeu, with his teammates parking not just one bus across the road, as they fanned out like a police riot line, but their team coach and a Hummer too. There wasn’t space there for even a UCI official to wiggle through. Not content with having one man bridge to the early lead, two more of Vino’s boys then jumped over, the ‘experienced’ Michele Scarponi and irrepressibly named Tanel Kangert of Estonia.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)Kangert and Scarponi; irrepressible

Kangert and Scarponi weren’t done at that, and they set off again to formulate a 5-man break that quickly got 31 seconds on the peloton with 65km to go. What always intrigued me when I was racing was how utterly pointless a good 95% of our pre-race briefings were. Rather than “X you do this, then Y, you do this, then Z, easy son, you win!” it would be better almost every time if the manager said “Lads, do whatever happens!”

Astana though were clearly determined to follow their lines (no cocaine jokes please) and it was looking a tad ominous – or brilliant, depending on whether you support a team that frankly should have been out on its ear at the end of last year.

If you do: Wahey!

If you don’t: Boo!

Who’d have known all the early pantomime training would come in handy when watching pro cycling?

tdf12roundupgc-astana-girls-620Fans or pantomime?

Their hearty presence in several breaks meant that other teams had to chase, primarily Katusha and Etixx – Quick-Step but then – and this is when you knew someone was feeling real good – even Movistar hit the front. I’m not saying Movistar are lazy but in Valverde they have a rider who really is a lone wolf. It’s almost as if they don’t need to work. I can’t think of another pro who needs a team less than Old Piti. What a conger eel of a rider he is, slippery and evasive, dwelling in the shadows, ready to do very little but strike when the moment is perfect. Think of the absolute opposite of Thomas Voeckler, and you have Valverde. He once said ‘When you are not good, take a chance. But when you are good, do nothing until the end.’

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)‘Stay in the wheels lad’

So, we must assume he is never not good, because he never takes a chance. Not that he or his accountant are complaining of course. With a Flèche Wallonne double and a win here to better his second last year, it’s such a shame, says many a Belgian, that he isn’t Belgian. His win was precise, it was the win of experience and of a coolness that only success brings and it was a win that, along with that of Davide Rebellin at the Tour of Turkey, would have had many a fan shaking their head. ‘Youth will have its day’ they say. Well, not this week.

Speaking of youth, The Man Who Would Sue The UCI, Fuglsang of Astana, put in an appearance towards the end with 16km to go when he joined a dangerous looking break made up of Caruso of Astana and Roman Kreuziger. Again hearts went into mouths and a collective groan could be heard from the stratosphere. However, it was unnecessary, as the lively Alaphilippe of Etixx – Quick-Step powered a chasing group from the remainder of the peloton.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)Young Alaphilippe in a Spanish sandwich

It didn’t go far however and you have to wonder first of all why the designated team leader for the day decided to take it upon himself to chase, and whether he paid for the effort at the end, when he came second, unable to catch Valverde in the last ten meters. The effort of the Frenchman to get away from the pack is not one you would ever see the Spaniard messing about with. “If the wind’s on your chest boy,” my old mentor used to say to me (and maybe to Valverde too), “then you’re in the wrong place.”

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)Moreno looked good, until…

Valverde used his reserve of power to cannily keep the pace high on the penultimate hill, as he was out of teammates and it means that he was not going to be boxed in if anyone went. He figured it was worth it and it was, because with the line being only 6km away, he knew he had the legs to go manage it.

Crash time!

There was a brief moment when Moreno of Katusha looked like he might steal it (not even sure he knew he had the gap as he never seemed to look behind), but it was not to be. With Dan ‘Lucky’ Martin already kiboshed by another fall that hampered some of the other favorites long before, it was going to be Valverde’s day all the way.

He’s a fencer, is Valverde, and his rapier remains razor sharp still.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)Valverde: Rapier or bludgeon?

Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.

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