Preview: The Ardennes Weekend
– Reported by Gazzetta dello Sport –
The northern classics campaign comes to an end this week in the hills of the Ardenne. Two appointments left, two classics, before professional cycling turns its attention to the grand tours. It begins with Fleche-Wallone, scheduled to take place this Thursday from Cherleroi to the Mur di Huy, and finishes with Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday. For the Italian riders, they’re the last two chances to bag a classics win until after the Tour de France in July. Last year the Italians dominated the World Cup circuit, winning all of the northern classics (Bartoli won the Amstel Gold Race, Tafi conquered Flanders, Cipollini took Ghent-Whevelgem, Bettini at Liege), this time they have not yet won one of these important classics. Fleche-Wallone, despite not being a World Cup race, still remains one of the most prestigious classics of the year. The course, totaling 195.5 km, is marked by a constant battle with elevation, giving the 67th edition of the race a good proving ground for the climbers.
Along with Lance Armstrong, who showed his growing form last weekend at Amstel, the list of favorites is long. One rider who seems to pose a threat to the Texan is Jan Ullrich, who recently won the Rund um Koln after a long 52 km solo break. Then there’s Boogerd, Vandenbroucke, Aerts (winner of last years edition), Van Petegem (winner of Flanders and Roubaix), Zberg, and the emerging Popovych. And the Italians? Danilo Di Luca, third at Amstel, appears to be the best prepared. But last Sunday also provided a showcase for the good condition of two-time Liege winner Michele Bartoli and Francesco Casagrande. Dark horses include Quick Step’s Luca Paolini and Saeco’s Mirko Celestino.
One rider who won’t be taking part in the rest of the Ardennes campaign will be Australian phenom Cadel Evans, who has revealed that a crash in Amstel has resulted in a broken collarbone. The Telekom rider will miss the rest of the classics, but it seems that the injury should have no negative affect on his preparation for this summer’s Tour de France.