- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 11:01
- Cycling News
At the start of the final spring classic
The final classic of the spring, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, began in Belgium this morning. It was your typical Belgian race startline, packed with adoring fans in stretched team kits from the mid-90s, and young kids calling out to riders’ names in brave attempts to attract stray bidons and caps.
Daniel Mangeas' voice trickled through the announcement speakers as riders braved the chilly but dry conditions on their way to the sign on, aware that Liege is the final curtain call before attention shifts to the stage races of May, and the Giro d’Italia.
But a closer look outside the team buses gave an insight into a far more interesting side to the sport. With the Classics beginning to wind down a number of teams and riders have begun discussing plans for next year and a number of agents were present in Liege, having kept far lower profiles earlier in the season.
Folded arms and pursed lips were the norm as initial stages of haggling filled the air. One team director was slightly more abrupt, raising a finger in the direction of an opposing team before telling Cyclingnews, ‘I think they’ll be after my rider, they need him.”
Cycling, a rich and every changing sport of dynamics, never stands still, and while racing will almost certainly dominate tomorrow’s headlines, there was much more at stake at this morning’s start in Liege.
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 11:48
- Daniel Benson
Both riders hoping for strong showing in Ardennes finale
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) has distanced himself from the main favourites for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and told Cyclingnews that he will ride the race with less pressure than in previous years. The 2009 race winner has had a slow start to the season and will be looking to support brother and team leader Fränk in today’s race, before taking a break from racing and building up towards his Tour de France bid.
At the start in Liege Andy talked to Cyclingnews about his prospects for the day.
While the Schlecks are well accustomed to competing in the finale of Liege, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) enters the Doyenne with slightly lower expectations on his shoulder. The Irishman was a superb 6th in La Fleche Wallonne earlier in the week and has proven in the past – last year’s Lombardia a prime example – that he can ride the long distances in the Classics.
The day before Liège-Bastogne-Liège the riders and teams gathered in the city centre for the teams presentations. Martin was of course present, and talked to Cyclingnews about his prospect for the race. He has suffered with allergies in recent years but this season he looks to have cured his ailments and along with Ryder Hesjedal and Fabian Wegmann, he leads a strong Garmin team. In this second video, Martin talks about his Ardennes form and his aspirations for Liege.
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 13:34
- Daniel Benson
Fränk Schleck will not ride Giro d'Italia
Kim Andersen has hit the headlines this week but even the Danish directeur sportif is probably slightly bemused by the tug of war he’s central to at RadioShack-Nissan.
However a line appears to have been finally drawn under a bizarre saga that has seen Andersen placed in a public battle between the Schleck brothers and RadioShack’s team boss Johan Bruyneel.
Andersen has been part of the Schleck entourage since their first steps at Saxo Bank and broke free at the end of 2010 with the Schlecks to set up Leopard-Trek - a team fully armed with Luxembourg funds to deliver a Tour de France title in 2011. The team ultimately failed, and despite both Schlecks making the podium at the Tour, team principal Brian Nygaard was dismissed less than a year into his employment. The team subsequently folded under Bruyneel’s wing at RadioShack, with the Belgian deciding over staff and rider placements as the teams merged.
The merger has seen Andersen working under Bruyneel and the Dane was subsequently left out of the Tour de France management, which was announced last week. The move appeared to frustrate Andy Schleck, who told Cyclingnews on Saturday that he hoped Bruyneel would reconsider his divide and rule decision.
But 24 hours after Schleck’s comments, Bruyneel was in defiant mood, telling Cyclingnews that his decision to leave Andersen at home during the Tour de France was final.
“It’s the plan we set out with in the past at the beginning of the year and I have the people I’ve worked with for a number of years who have shown that they know how to manage a big tour and with those people there I’m sure that everybody will have the necessary support they need to make the right decisions,” he said.
“I’m not going to go into any controversy, that’s my version and I’m not going to go into Andy said this or that. The decision has been made and the decision stays like it is.”
Such public displays from both riders and management is bizarre to say the least and one that almost certainly signals that the RadioShack camp has yet to settle. Bruyneel rarely has seen his authority challenged but when it has – Alberto Contador during the 2009 Tour de France – it has ended in acrimony.
One matter that appears to have been settled surrounds the Giro d’Italia. Earlier in the year Bruyneel had hinted that Fränk Schleck could ride the Italian grand tour in May, before turning his attention towards supporting Andy Schleck at the Tour de France. But at the start line in Liege, Bruyneel confirmed that both riders would ride the Tour, with Fränk Schleck skipping the Giro.
But the universal theme that unites both brothers and their manager is a need for a victory. The team have fired blanks so far this season, and Fabian Cancellara’s win in Strade Bianche aside, they’ve failed to capitalise on their undoubted collective strengths.
“There’s not that much different, there are just two groups that came together and we tried to get the best quality out of both groups but until we’ve had that big victory I can’t say it has been a success.”
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 18:32
- Daniel Benson
Garmin-Barracuda continues to improve
Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) capped a superb Ardennes with fifth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The Irishman was one of the strongest riders in the finale, while his Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedal rounded out a successful day for the squad with ninth place.
At the finish, a clearly exhausted Martin parked himself on the bonnet of a Garmin team car before talking to the press. Along with paying tribute to the work his team had carried out for him and Hesjedal, he described the progress he has made since turning professional.
There have been notable successes since his first pro contract in 2009 but perhaps one of the most important came last autumn when Martin finished second in the Giro di Lombardia. According to Martin, it gave him and his team confidence in him to attack the Ardennes with a realistic chance of a major result. Two top 10 places in Fleche and today in Liege are testament to the belief from both rider and team.
"It would be a dream to win this race but now it's becoming a realistic dream," he said.
"The team showed belief in me after my Lombardia performance and that definitely gave me confidence over the winter to make these races an objective."
"I came here looking to get some results, and it's the first time I've really shown in these races before. It's pretty promising for the future, and it shows progression and that I'm getting stronger every year. I think these races are a lot about experience as well and there were a couple of times today and on Wednesday that I've lacked a bit of experience but we're definitely getting there now and it's been a good week."
Martin was more than just a passenger on his way to fifth, attacking the group of favourites after Vincenzo Nibali had launched his attack on the penultimate climb.
Joined by Pierre Rolland, Martin set about reducing the gap to Nibali and the counter attack that included Joaquim Rodriguez and eventual winner Maxim Iglinskiy.
However with Rolland no more than a passenger, Martin had little chance of making inroads into the leaders' time gaps. Rodriguez was eventually reeled in, but by then Martin had also been dragged back by the remnants of the favourites.
"I think you saw in the final that nobody had any legs left and nobody could make a difference and then it was a slow motion sprint at the end when you've got nothing left. We rode a really good race and the team worked really well for us today. Ryder and I went into it protected and were both there in the top 10. It's a really good result for the team and I'm pretty happy," he said.
"I didn't even know Nibali had gone. Ryder and I actually got dropped on the (Cote de La Roche aux) Faucons and and we rode together to get back. That shows the level of teamwork we've got. There was a lot of messing around, Astana had a couple of riders and Katusha was blocking as well, so we took it in turns to get away, and I was the lucky one to get away and got a gap."
With another year of Spring Classics under his belt, Martin's stock continues to rise. Still just 25, he has perhaps 10 editions of Liege left to secure the Classic win of which he dreams, but today, as he returned to the Garmin team bus, he could chalk up his fifth place as a step in the right direction.
"I'm happy, definitely," he said.
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 19:17
- Daniel Benson
Astana racer takes biggest win of his career
"It's done," muttered one veteran member of the press corps when Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) dived down the descent of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, 19 kilometres from the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The journalist wasn't the only one to wrongly assume the race was effectively over.
Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) admitted at the finish that he believed he was racing for second place when he initiated a counter attack with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). The duo started the Cote de Saint Nicolas 40 seconds down on Nibali, but with confusion over the time gaps and Rodriguez buckling on the climb, Iglinskiy soon found himself within touching distance of the despairing Nibali.
Iglinskiy made contact with the Liquigas leader just in front of the flamme rouge, before accelerating clear.
"When I went for it, chasing after Nibali, I thought I had no chance of victory. I thought I was fighting for second," he said in his winner's press conference.
"But then I managed to catch him, saw he wasn't in a good place, and went for it straight away. It's the biggest win of my career by a long way."
While Iglinskiy was certainly not counted as a favourite for today's win, his victory is certainly not a complete shock. The Astana rider won Strade Bianche in 2010 during a purple patch that included fourth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, eighth in Milan-San Remo, seventh in Gent-Wevelgem, and eighth in the Tour of Flanders.
The 2011 season has certainly been less successful, but unlike Enrico Gasparotto who showed virtually no form before his win in Amstel Gold Race last week, Iglinskiy has had a strong start to this year, with second in Strade Bianche and 11th in Amstel Gold.
"Although I had taken stages in hilly races like the Dauphine Libere in 2007 and the Tour of Romandie in 2008 - as well as the Strade Bianche in 2010 - I thought I could do better in cobbled Classics like Ghent-Welvegem and E3 Harelbeke, not in a Classic like this. But I was wrong."
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 19:23
- Brecht Decaluwé
Belgian champion hits red zone on Roche aux Faucons
One year after a complete domination of the Ardennes week, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) leaves the Ardennes and the whole spring classics season empty-handed. After chasing his best form during the past months, Gilbert felt he was finally back in good shape on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 29-year-old Belgian believed that he would be able to grab his last chance of a big win in La Doyenne, the oldest of the Classics, but the tide didn’t turn on home turf for the Belgian champion. In the finale, Gilbert was dropped from an elite chase group on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. He eventually crossed the finish line in Ans riding alone in 16th position, one minute and a half behind his successor Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana).
“To me, he’s a surprise and I’m especially surprised by the way he did it. He was very strong. He’s a Kazakh so maybe he’s also used to the foul weather,” Gilbert said.
Last year Gilbert clocked off the first part of the season with seven nice wins in his bag. This time around he’s left empty-handed but that didn’t make him feel disappointed.
“I’m not disappointed because I did all that I could do. The only reason to be disappointed is because I always have the ambition to win. Of course it’s sad that I wasn’t able to win a big race. The difference [to last year] is big. Last year I was able to make use of that form to the maximum, never letting a chance slip away. This year is quite different but that’s sport. You can’t always be on the top of your form. Certainly in Liège you need to be at least 100 per cent. At this level it’s like in the Formula 1 when the smallest of details make the difference. I’m only at 90 or 95 per cent. I’m paying for that.”
Gilbert rode prominently near the front throughout, and he was right there when Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) made his decisive attack on top of the Falcon’s Rock, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. A little later Iglinskiy snuck away with Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha), while Gilbert turned out to be gasping for air.
“When I tried to follow Nibali on the Roche-aux-Faucons I hit the red zone. Right after that I struggled to recover. On character I managed to hang on, hoping I would get over it. The following roads were more rolling and that’s when the group broke in two parts. I ended up riding in the second group but we came back at the foot of the Saint-Nicolas. There it was very hard for me. I hadn’t recovered and I paid for that. I finished as last of the lead group. In a race like this there are no secrets, everybody is on form. I have no regrets. If I wasn’t in front then it is because I wasn’t able to be. I’m at a good level but to win this race you have to be at 100 per cent.”
After the last of the Spring Classics, a new part of the season kicks off with the big stage races as key events. For Gilbert it’s the moment to ease off and get ready for his next goals. The Walloon rider said that although he adapted his training regime to his moderate form, he felt very tired.
“I need a break even though I didn’t ride the finale of every race. Mentally it took a lot of energy, physically too. I’m taking a break now in order to start the second part of the season at the right foot. I hope to return with my best form in a few months. Also, next year the classics are there again and I’ll keep trying,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert is planned to return to competition at the Tour of Belgium at the end of May. He hopes to arrive at the Tour de France in July in top form in order to grab the stage win in Seraing, near Liège, and to support teammate Cadel Evans in his attempt to capture another overall win.
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 21:19
- Jean-François Quénet/Cyclingnews.com
Dutch sprinter unsure about his Olympic chances
Theo Bos scored a meaningful victory at the end of stage 1 in the 48th Presidential Tour of Turkey. As the event is being held this year in the opposite direction as previous editions, from Alanya to Istanbul, the Dutchman's success took place in the same town where a dramatic crash happened in the final sprint three years ago. Following that incident, he was suspended by the UCI for one month because of he allegedly tarnished the image of cycling. Ironically, this time Bos outsprinted Matt Goss who is now a teammate of that crash's victim - and overall winner - in 2009, South Africa's Daryl Impey.
"I didn't know we were at the same place," said Bos. "I just found out. For me, it's just another bike race. This case was closed a long time ago. To win here doesn't give me any extra feeling or a different feeling. For us, as a team, we only learnt at the last moment that we could come to Turkey [as a replacement for RusVelo]."
"Normally I would go to Romandie to prepare for the Giro d'Italia, but as a sprinter, my climbing skills are not that good. Here, I can prepare physically for the Giro but it's also an important race to work on our sprinting. At Rabobank, we didn't have a great culture in sprinting but it's changing now, and the Tour of Turkey gives us a great opportunity to make a step up again."
Bos noted the recruitment of Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish's former lead-out man, Mark Renshaw. "Today we decided that it was a good race for me, with no big climbs or anything," said Bos. "It was a good opportunity for me to work the sprint out. Mark will also have his chance and we'll try a 100 percent for him. Today, I had Mark and Graeme [Brown] in front of me, two former pursuit world record holders who won a lot of things on the road. Every day I learnt a lot from them. With Mark joining us this season, with the knowledge he has, we made a big step forward as a team. Our next goal is to get him in a good position for winning." Renshaw has yet to win a race for Rabobank.
The younger riders lined up for Rabobank in Turkey were all sprinters in the making as well. Coen Vermeltfoort (in 2008), Dennis van Winden (2009) and Jetse Bol (2010 and 2011) all sprinted to wins in the past four opening stages of the 2.2-ranked Tour de Bretagne for Rabobank Continental.
A true gentleman when he talks about his sport, Bos didn't talk more about his ambitions for the near future as he remains humble about his adaptation to road racing since the Beijing Olympics. "I've won today against a lot of top sprinters, but I can't say that I'll do the same at the Giro because I don't know how they and their team will race once we're on the road in two weeks time."
"Here in Turkey, I'll first try to finish the race. By winning today in such a quality field of sprinters, I've made a step up as a cyclist, but I'm not a complete rider on the road yet. I have to become more of an all-rounder and more solid. I don't know if the Giro will be harder or less hard than what I experience here."
Talking about his Australian teammates, who also come from the track, but have an endurance background, Bos looked back at the Athens Olympics eight years ago, when he was a silver medalist in sprinting events while Brown won the team pursuit. Bos considered returning to the velodrome for an attempt at the individual pursuit now that his physique has changed, but it proved to be a moot idea once the UCI took the event out of the Olympic program.
"The road race could be my way to take part in the London Olympics as well," said Bos to Cyclingnews in Alanya. "But it's going to be a hard race. I've been there. I've seen the course. It's probably too difficult for me to be in the final sprint."
Time will tell more about the track-to-road conversion progress of Bos in the Giro in a few weeks.
- Article published:
- April 22, 2012, 22:30
- Daniel Benson
Liquigas-Cannondale rider almost pulls it off
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) looked to have Liège-Bastogne-Liège sewn up on Sunday when he attacked on the descent of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons and dropped his main challengers.
He quickly opened up a significant gap on those behind and started the Cote de Saint Nicolas with a clear gap in between himself and a chase group of Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
However the gap was quickly whittled down when Iglinskiy dropped Rodriguez, and as the Astana rider crested the top of the climb the gap was timed at seven seconds. The inevitable catch was made just before the flamme rouge, before Iglinskiy stormed to take the win by 21 seconds.
As Iglinskiy celebrated at the finish, his teammates amongst the first to congratulate him, Nibali was left alone and isolated, the mere presence of an Italian television crew for immediate company as he stopped his bike and fell over his handlebars.
"I did a good attack but because there was a lot of wind coming onto the Saint-Nicolas, it wore me out. I really believed I could do it, but when I saw Iglinskiy coming up to me, I tried to stay on his wheel," he said.
"I attacked myself on La Roche aux Faucons because I wanted to make a decent move, and it would have been hard to make a selection on the Saint-Nicolas because everybody was still up there. We would all have been up there waiting. I was just missing a little bit in the end,"
Nibali was quick to praise the Kazak rider, who in overhauling the Italian before the line, had secured the biggest win of his career.
"He's always been an excellent rider, but maybe if a Gilbert had come past me, I would have been happier."
Tactically, Nibali cannot be criticised. He peppered the opposition with attacks on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, before pressing home his advantage on the descent.
"There's not much to reflect on, because I certainly did a good race. I really wanted to do well here in Liège this week. I didn't get anything wrong today, I was just missing something in my legs in the finale."
"There's a bit of disappointment of course, but it's not like I'm going to stop here."
"I tried to hang on when I heard that Iglinskiy was chasing me, maybe it would have been better to have sat up and then tried to play my hand in the sprint."