Liege-Bastogne-Liege: The Return Of The Queen!
The last Classic of the Spring is the oldest and, arguably, the most beautiful. After the flat roads of MSR, the bergs of Flanders, the cobbles of P-R and the hills of the Amstel Gold, it’s time to hit the longer climbs of the Belgian Ardennes.
Pez CyclingNews checks out the names in the frame for L-B-L this coming Sunday, and a few of the usual suspects crop up again, although we start with a name we’ve not mentioned this Classics’s season …
Just follow the colored lines. Source: LeTour.com
Tyler Hamilton made history last year with the first ever win by an American in this fantastic race. Tyler will be back heading a strong Phonak team in a bid to defend his title. The form is coming along slowly, but this might be a race too far too early. And after 2003, no-one will let Tyler get too far ahead.
A glorious hat-trick awaits Davide Rebellin on Sunday if he can just hold the form that has allowed him to storm through the Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. There’s no doubting the confidence he has in himself, or that Gerolsteiner have in him. Can the magic last for one more Classic?
Paolo Bettini pulled out of Fleche Wallonne looking a little sorry for himself. But he’s won L-B-L twice before so this is a key objective in his bid to catapult himself back up the World Cup rankings. Quick.Step don’t have too many other irons in the fire for this race in 2004, so Bettini will get full back-up. He’ll probably be on his own at the death though, and if the health or form ain’t 100% a 3rd win might be out of the question.
If anyone has suffered throught the Classics this year, it’s been Danilo Di Luca. Caught out at the Amstel, and overhauled practically on the line at Fleche, Di Luca needs a redemption of sorts on Sunday. When you’re a big star, close just isn’t close enough – Saeco have seen Pieri screw up his Classics’ season, so the pressure is on Danilo to save the spring!
Michael Boogerd has been strong over the last few weeks, and just lost out to cycling’s newest comeback king, Rebellin, last weekend. Rabobank have been one of the major teams this season, and Boogie will get all the help going to put him in a winning position. But does he have the instinct and power to finish things off?
Lots of hills, and a nasty kick in the gut to finish. Source: LeTour.com
Ukrainian superstar-in-waiting Yaroslav Popovych has pledged to show himself on Sunday, and is approaching the form he’ll need to challenge at the Giro d’ Italia. He made the top 20 at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, and the course suits his style of riding, but might be just too long. Expect to see the Landbouwkrediet jersey in the action, though.
Another Classic, another race awaiting the great Frank Vandenbroucke resurrection. VDB isn’t nearly the same guy who won here 5 years ago, but the form is coming on – 7th at Fleche. Fassa will be devoted to Franky Boy on Sunday, but if he doesn’t produce the goods, then the patience might disappear. Realistically though, he’s Belgium’s best hope, along with …
Peter Van Petegem. The Lotto head-honcho has been on form all through the Spring without getting the breaks to allow him to build on last season’s brilliant results. L-B-L isn’t quite to his taste, but he’s classy enough to get in the mix, so who knows?
Another Giro contender who’ll be stretching his legs at L-B-L is Stefano Garzelli, who did a storming ride here in 2002 for Paolo Bettini. Garzelli won the Vuelta Aragon the other week, so he’s hitting form, and the time could be right for a Hamilton-style escapade on Sunday.
Don’t rule out CSC’s Michele Bartoli, a former double-champion at L-B-L. Things haven’t really clicked for Miki this season, but whenever he’s been written off before, he’s come back to win something big.
T-Mobile have been, probably, the strongest Classics team this year, thanks in large part to Alexander Vinokourov’s willingness to mix it in races other than the Tour. He looked good at Fleche Wallonne, and backed by Matthias Kessler could well be up there on Sunday.
Pez will be bringing you reports on the big race so stay tuned on Sunday!