The 199 riders set to ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege attended the official team presentation on Saturday afternoon in a packed marquee in the courtyard of the Palais des Princes-Eveques in central Liege.
The 25 teams are required to attend and climb on stage to be presented one by one to the crowd packed into the marquee. On the way in and the way out, the riders are mobbed by cycling fans, looking for an autograph, a photograph or even just he chance to see local hero Philippe Gilbert.
It is the last chance for the media to speak to riders and discover the final starting roster for the teams. Cyclingnews caught up with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) and Simon Gerrans (Team Sky). Like many riders, Hesjedal has been affected by the high pollen count in the air caused by the unusual warm weather and dry conditions. He has a slightly blocked nose but said he his legs are good for the 255.5km race and the 10 classified cotes.
Gerrans will form a interesting combination at Team Sky with the classy Thomas Löfkvist and new signing Rigoberto Uran. Of course everyone will be trying to get rid of Gilbert, who is trying to complete an Ardennes Classic hat trick.
It should be a fascinating battle between him, the Schlecks, and all the other contenders.
Several riders have flown into Belgium since Wednesday's Fleche-Wallonne. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana) rode the Giro del Trentino and flew from Italy on Saturday morning. However Giro del Trentino winner Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) opted not to ride.
Late changes to teams include the confirmation that Xavier Tondo will not ride for Movistar. He had stayed in Belgium this week but is still fighting the pain of kidney...
Ryder Hesjedal was suffering from allergies due to the spring pollen in Belgium, but after completing his reconnaissance of the key part of the Liège - Bastogne - Liège race route on Friday, he told Cyclingnews he is ready to race.
Hesjedal can count on the support of experienced teammates Christian Vande Velde and David Millar, although Dan Martin is struggling with a painful elbow after his crash at Flèche Wallonne. Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel is expected to share leadership and protected status at Garmin-Cervélo after finishing eighth at Flèche Wallonne.
Hesjedal finished twelfth in last year's Liège - Bastogne - Liège but is confident of doing better this year.
"We did the recon and did a great ride. The weather is holding in nice and the team is really good," he told Cyclingnews in a video interview at the official team presentation.
"It was the best recon I've ever done. I felt really good, so it's easy today and hoping it's all good on Sunday."
Hesjedal said he will be extra vigilant during the tough trio of climbs in the finale of the race. The key selection is expected to occur there, as Leopard Trek and other riders try to isolate Philippe Gilbert on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons.
"That's where it happened in the last two years and I'm going to have my eyes wide open and hope my legs are good enough to be at the front and be part of the race there. There's a lot of hard racing before that, too".
Hesjedal said he will be watching more than just Gilbert.
"There's more than Gilbert out there, if everyone tries to ride against one guy, I don't know if that's the best tactic," he said. "There are a lot of great...
Sandy Casar (FDJ) travels to the Presidential Tour of Turkey aiming to profit from his recent good form. The race gets under way in Istanbul on Sunday, and Casar is making no secret of his ambitions for the eight-stage event.
“I’m going there to race,” said Casar. “I’m hoping to do well on the general classification, looking to win the race if possible.”
After suffering from illness earlier in the season, Casar bounced back to win Paris-Camembert recently, and he finished third in the Tour du Finistère last weekend.
"My early season has been marred by health problems. I suffered at the Tour of Oman and I pulled out at Paris-Nice. But now I'm fine and I feel great. I want to profit from this good shape in Turkey."
2011 marks Casar’s first participation in the Turkish race. As FDJ are not part of the WorldTour, they did not receive invitations to the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de Romandie, but Casar is determined to make his mark where he can.
Also in the FDJ line-up are Rémi Pauriol and young French talent Thibaut Pinot, and Casar reckons that he is leading one of the strongest squads in the race.
"This year, we feel more solidarity inside our team," said Casar, who has been part of the FDJ roster since he turned pro in 2000. "We have a team for winning the Tour of Turkey. I’m not talking only for myself, it can be another of my teammates.
"Since it’s our first time answering the call of the organisers, we want to do well. I know that we’ll enjoy beautiful landscapes but I warn everyone that we won’t be coming for tourism purposes. FDJ has the...
German suggests how Leopard Trek can beat Philippe Gilbert
Jens Voigt has called on his Leopard Trek team leaders Andy and Fränk Schleck to ride a brave and aggressive race on Sunday, believing carefully controlled aggression at the crucial moment of the race is the key to beating Philippe Gilbert and the other big-name favourites.
Voigt is 39 and has been a professional since 1997, but he loves a fight and he seems to be looking forward to Sunday’s final major spring Classic.
Voigt went close to winning a memorable edition of cycling’s oldest one-day classic in 2005. He broke away with Alexandre Vinokourov and the two blasted to the finish together, but it was the Kazakh rider who won the sprint to the line.
He is known for his aggressive style of racing and encouraged the Schlecks to attack Gilbert on the Cote de la Roche Faucons climb that was added to the race route just three years ago. He believes it could be difficult for Gilbert to go with them because it is so steep and so they could then fight it out for victory with other contenders.
The 2011 Amgen Tour of California promises to be the most difficult and most exciting edition yet, and Cyclingnews asked peloton insiders Chris Horner (RadioShack) and Mike Tamayo (director of United Healthcare) to pick apart the course and offer up their predictions.
While both agree the Solvang time trial on stage six and the climb to Mount Baldy the following day will be critical, there could be a few surprises along the way.
Starting with a few high altitude climbs around Lake Tahoe on stage 1, Horner thinks a small group with a rider such as Liquigas-Cannondale's Peter Sagan could contest the win, while Tamayo thinks the altitude could keep the top overall contenders in check.
A largely flat downhill to Sacramento on stage 2 is undoubtedly one for the sprinters, but stage 3 could prove more exciting than it looks on paper.
""At a first glance to the profile, you might think; 121 miles flat boring stage. But, racing through the central valley of California equals open agricultural fields and possible high winds," said Tamayo. "With the course heading predominantly south, the west wind could cause some major splits in the field. It is not a GC deciding day, but it won’t be a rest day either."
A new summit finish on stage 4 at Sierra Road will be the first time the general classification contenders get to really come out and play.
"An 81-mile stage may not seem very long, but I think the first battle...
The little Australia is a fighter and hopes the race will be more aggressive than usual as several teams try to crack Philippe Gilbert before the final climb to the finish in Ans, above Liege.
Gerrans finished slightly off the pace at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday but told Cyclingnews he has recovered well.
"I think I’d not quite recovered enough to be up there with the best guys but I’m feeling good now and hopefully I’ll be up there tomorrow," he said.
Gerrans often trains with Gilbert in Monaco and their families spend time together. He is ready to accept defeat if Gilbert proves he is the best rider in the race but predicts that nobody will want to ride to the finish with the powerful Belgian.
"I think this is the most prestigious of the three Classics and so whoever wins tomorrow is a worthy winner. If Phil can get up and win another, he’ll prove he’s the man for the job.
"I think every one will have to really race more aggressively if they want any chance of beating Philippe. I don’t think anyone wants to go to the finish with him. I know that if I was coming to the finish (in the front group), I wouldn’t want to be racing against him, I’d want some advantage. I think everyone will be trying to do the same thing."