Ahead of Dan Martin’s second place finish at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday Cyclingnews headed out to Garmin-Sharp’s Belgium base. Along with joining the team for a reconnaissance ride over the course we stopped by to cast our eyes over a number of the team’s racing bikes.
First up was Martin’s Cervélo R5: a tried and tested, no-nonsense frameset that provides the climber with an aerodynamic and stiff ride that’s ideal for the Ardennes Classics. He’ll ride the same rig at the Giro d’Italia in May too.
In this exclusive video for Cyclingnews, a team mechanic takes us through Martin’s race bike, which has Dura-Ace Di2 11-speed, Garmin Vector pedals, and Mavic's CCU (Cosmic Carbone Ultimate) wheels.
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Arredondo was among the early movers at the foot of the Mur, but he was unable to respond to attacks in the final 300 metres and ended the day in 11th place. Impressive for his first time racing Flèche Wallonne and even more so having only arrived in Belgium the previous day from Colombia.
"I still had heavy legs from flight yesterday," Arredondo said after the crossing the finish line. "I felt pretty good in the race until the end, especially in the final 200 metres where I had nothing left. I am a bit disappointed as this is my dream race and I would have liked to finish better for the team."
Having crested the Mur de Huy for the second time, the ever reducing peloton had just 23km left to race with only the 2.2km Côte d'Ereffe nestled between the penultimate and final ascents of the brutal but short climb.
With riders fighting for position, a crash brought down Lampre-Merida's Damiano Cunego which also ended any chances that Fränk Schleck had for the win with just 3km left. With Andy Schleck abandoning the race due a knee injury he picked up at Amstel Gold, Arredondo was therefore the man for Trek in the finale.
Martin, Valverde, Nibali among favourites in La Doyenne
The grand finale of the Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest and most respected of the lot, a Monument worthy of its nickname, La Doyenne. To win here is one of the greatest achievements a professional cyclist can have, and Cyclingnews has picked out 10 riders who have the capability to capture the title.
Defending champion Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) seemed to have a less-than-ideal build up, dropping out of Amstel Gold Race with knee pain. However, he seemed to have made the correct choice by the time la Flèche Wallonne came around, nearly winning the race had he not jumped a touch too early.
One rider who went even earlier on Wednesday, Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) will look to build on his previous high finishes in Ans.
They will of course face two intimidating favourites, Flèche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe GIlbert (BMC), both of whom are past winners of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Outsiders include Daniel Moreno, who could take over as leader for injured Katusha teammate Joaquim Rodriguez Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol), Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and of course Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
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The 37-year-old Australian won alone on the steep finish above the village of Roncone, dropping Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in the final kilometre after an aggressive ride on the steep climb to the finish. He now leads the Italian climber in the overall classification at the Giro del Trentino by 45 seconds and needs only to control the racing on the mountain finish on Monte Bondone on Friday to secure overall victory.
The BMC team management convinced Evans to forget about the Tour de France and target the Giro d'Italia this year. It was a hard decision for him to accept but his stage victory and impressive climbing in Trentino show that he is ready for the corsa rosa, which starts in Belfast in two weeks.
"It wasn't very enjoyable but it's good to win," Evans said. "Tomorrow's stage is even harder. Things can change but I'm really happy for the way things are, how the team rode and how things are looking for the Giro d'Italia."
Evans is 37 and he's been racing as a professional mountain biker and then road rider since he was a teenager. Yet he is still motivated and able to put in the hard work needed to be competitive in grand tours and tough stage races.
"I find the motivation by people saying I'm a year older," he joked. "But age is just a number that I'm sometimes judged on. But I think people can see that I'm still motivated to race. I've still got the same love for the sport, the same desire to do well and the same passion as when I was 25. Now perhaps my experience helps me. There's nothing I can do about my age, it goes up for everyone. I just don't think about it, even if I won't be...
When Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) finished second in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday he made a point of waiting for his teammates at the top of the Mur de Huy in order to thank them for their work.
While Ramunas Navardauskas wasn't there to support Martin on that final ascent, he certainly put in his fair share of effort having broken free in the early stages of the race with UnitedHealthcare's Jonathan Clarke and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
It meant that Garmin, in need of result after a disappointing outing in the Amstel Gold Race, could take a back seat as other teams were forced to monitor and then chase the break.
"We planned to have someone in the front. It would have been better to have more riders, perhaps even up to eight, but when you're off the front like that you know it's not going to come back until the end. So we set a steady pace and it meant that we didn't have much pressure in the peloton," Navardauskas told Cyclingnews at the finish.
Wednesday marked the Lithuanian's first race outing in Flèche and although he had ridden reconnaissance over the Mur, nothing really prepared him for the atmosphere of the fans or the severity of the race.
"Amstel showed that you can have good days and bad days and sometimes you're just not able to take control of a race, and you find yourself a little bit behind what's going on," he said.
"This was my first time this race, and my first time racing up the Mur. It's so steep, it's so long and you need to be really fresh if you want to have a chance of winning here. I'm really happy that we got two riders in the top ten," he said, referring to Tom-Jelte Slagter's solid fifth place.
Navardauskas was eventually caught on the second...
Pooley, a former winner of the race, finished 13 seconds down on winner Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) and in the same time as world champion Marianne Vos.
"That was one of the nicest Flèches I've ridden. I didn't crash," Pooley told Cyclingnews as she sat by the barriers atop the Mur de Huy.
"It was slow at the start but then it became faster and was more aggressive so there was just a small group at the end on the second lap. There were groups on and off the front and it was pretty active. I had my teammate Liesbeth De Vocht with me who looked after me and I just had to make sure that I was there when any major group went off the front."
Despite a lack of racing miles this season, Pooley had enough strength to initiate attacks, breaking clear on the penultimate climb before the final showdown on the Mur. However Pooley found herself crowded out at the foot of the final climb and that mistake would cost her dearly in the end.
"I had a dig near the end but it didn't really work and then I was swamped at the foot of the Mur and got swamped behind a few people. I felt alright but I just couldn't get around them. That was my own fault because if you're stuck behind someone then you've messed up a bit.
"It was still a really good race and Rabobank rode well and had numbers in the front group. Even though I didn't win I had great support from the team. I'm maybe a bit disappointed with my form but given the fact that I've not raced that much I can't complain."
Domenico Pozzovivo stayed hunched over his handlebars for several minutes after the stage 3 finish in Roncone at the Giro del Trentino, fighting the pain of the 12% climb to the finish and the pain of finishing a close second to Cadel Evans (BMC).
The tiny AG2R-La Mondiale climber has not won a race since taking a stage at the Tour of Slovenia in 2012. That year he won the Giro del Trentino and a mountain stage at the Giro d'Italia but has only secured a series of placings since joining AG2R-La Mondiale.
"I thought I could drop him but he dropped me," Pozzovivo told Cyclingnews before getting a hug of consolation from his parents.
Pozzovivo made several accelerations in the final to kilometres which kicked up at 10% and then 12%, but Evans spun his gear while riding out of the saddle and was more than a match for the Italian.
"This short steep finish suited me but he was very strong and there was nothing I could do. Cadel was impressive today."
"I had some stomach problems overnight and so I wasn't great today, so I suppose have to be happy with second. But I really wanted a win."
Pozzovivo promised to try and do something on the longer, harder climb to the finish of stage four on Monte Bondone. The 19km climb has an average gradient of 8% with a final kick up to the finish at 10%.
"Tomorrow is another climb and an other day. Lets hope I feel better," he said.
He will lead the AG2R-La Mondiale team at the forthcoming Giro d'Italia.
"Hopefully I can be even better for the Giro d'Italia. There's time and racing here in the mountains will help me...
Commemoration of Léon Houa’s first victory to take place Saturday
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is set to celebrate the 100th edition of the race in style, with a plaque due to be unveiled in honour of Léon Houa, the first ever winner of the race back in 1892, this Saturday at midday on the outer wall of the house in central Liège where Houa was born.
Houa’s first win came after an early start to the race - at 5.40 in the morning - when he was one of 33 amateurs to set off towards Liège. As early as the first climb, the Cote de Aywaille, Houa was alone at the head of the field, completing the course in 10 hours 48 minutes and 32 seconds, averaging a little over 23 kph with a bike weighing 11.6kg.
Given the course was then known as Liège-Bastogne-And Back rather than Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the race used exactly the same route for both the outward and return segments, and on his way back to Liège Houa passed several competitors, by then lagging over an hour behind him, still heading towards Bastogne. Houa, later the Belgian national champion, went on to win the first three editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
An exhibition about the race is also taking place in Liège, running until the middle of May, whilst for those unable to make it to Belgium, a book containing a detailed history of the race has just been published by a local journalist, Didier Malempré.
“Given this is the 100th edition, it was the right moment to write it,” Malempré told Cyclingnews, “although I have a lot of fond memories of the race as a spectactor and reporter, too.
“I first watched it as a spectator in 1987, when [Moreno] Argentin beat Claudy Criquielion and Stephen Roche after catching them in the last kilometre. I wasn’t a journalist at the time, I was a huge fan of Criquielion and was very disappointed he lost, but it was...