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Second Edition Cycling News, Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Date published:
April 21, 2010, 1:00 BST
  • Can Cunego claim another Classic?

    Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) before the start.
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 9:32 BST
    Cycling News

    Lampre-Farnese Vini riders ready for the Mur de Huy

    Although Damiano Cunego's performance at last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race was no surprise given his track record in past Ardennes Classics, it appeared that a recent bout of gastroenteritis didn't prevent him from riding amongst the favourites in the finale.

    Having stated before the race that he was unsure of his form given his illness, Cunego finished sixth in Valkenberg. He won the event in 2008 and despite missing the podium it was a strong performance and he now goes into today's Flèche Wallonne as one of the contenders for the crown.

    The Lampre-Farnese Vini rider is anticipating another shot at the podium, having obviously recovered from his upset digestive system."I was satisfied with my performance in Amstel Gold Race," said Cunego. "I knew I wasn't in top form, but determination was needed to battle at the head of the race. In the past two days I've felt better and my mood is growing, thanks to the confidence of all my teammates."

    Cunego will be joined by Matteo Bono, Francesco Gavazzi, David Loosli, Manuele Mori, Daniele Pietropolli, Daniele Righi and Alessandro Spezialetti in a Lampre-Farnese Vini squad centred around Cunego's chances.

    "The approach to this important event has been good," said directeur sportif Brent Copeland after the team trained yesterday. "Monday was a day to recover from the fatigue of a long journey to the Netherlands and the Amstel Gold Race, but today we made a profitable two-and-a-half hour workout.

    Cunego finished third in last year's edition of La Flèche Wallonne, a race he described as "charming but ruthless; the Mur de Huy doesn't make allowances for those who do not have legs full of energy: I am aware of the fierce competition, I hope to have positive signs in the race to try to achieve a performance as interesting as the Amstel," he added.

    Copeland is acutely aware of Cunego's ability to be a contender this afternoon in Huy. "The Flèche Wallonne is a...

  • Contador's Mur mission a tough one

    Alberto Contador rides the Fleche Wallonne course on Tuesday.
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 10:07 BST
    Cycling News

    Spanish ace admits iconic Flèche climb harder than expected

    He may be tipped as a favourite for today's Flèche Wallonne but Alberto Contador is under no illusions as to the task that awaits him in conquering the infamous Mur de Huy.

    "I remember the Mur de Huy," said Contador, "but I found it even harder than I remembered; it has a final 700 metres that are incredible," he admitted.

    Speaking after a training ride with his Astana teammates on the route, Contador said, "Today we saw the last 60km of the race and everything went pretty well. There are climbs that I knew from 2007, but there have been some changes in the final.

    "We had a good day - we saw everything and now I just need the legs to work," he added.

    Like countryman Alejandro Valverde, Contador drove the 2,000km journey from Spain to Belgium for the event, something he admitted may have hampered his preparation for today's race.

    "It's difficult to draw any conclusions after a voyage of almost 2,000 kilometres. My sensations today were not the best, but I hope that will change tomorrow," he said after yesterday's training ride.

    He believes that "those who fought for the Amstel Gold Race, people like Philippe Gilbert, [Damiano] Cunego, [Seguei] Ivanov and others like Alejandro Valverde," will be the favourites and the 'reference points' for where he needs to be throughout the race.

    While Contador will be a marked man this afternoon in the Ardennes, Sunday's Liège - Bastogne - Liège is a different proposition, and the only Spaniard to have won all three grand tours knows that he could struggle with the additional demands of the 'old lady' of the Classics.

    "Liège is a race far more demanding than this; people come to the finish more just because there are 60km more and the accumulated slope is also significantly higher [than Flèche Wallonne].

    "I hope to do well and continue learning these races, but there are more experienced and more motivated riders than me,...

  • Devolder to ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege

    After a disappointing Flanders what’s left in Stijn Devolder’s tank?
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 11:04 BST
    Cycling News

    Quick Step rider wants in despite injury

    Stijn Devolder will start Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, despite continuing knee problems. “I want that last Spring Classic ride,” he told the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.

    The Quick Step rider crashed twice during Paris-Roubaix two weeks ago, and was forced to skip Brabantse Pijl.

    “I am back to full training,” he said. “It must have really been a serious crash, because if I put full force on the pedals, I feel it in my knee.”
    The 30-year-old will then have a short break from racing, before going to the Four Days of Dunkirk, Tour of Belgium, Tour de Suisse, and the Belgian nationals.

    Devolder had come in for public criticism from his team manger Patrick Lefevere for his concentration on the Tour of Flanders. Devolder had won the race the last two years but this year finished 25th, over two and a half minutes down this year. More recently, Lefevere suggested that his contract, which expires the end of this season, might not be renewed.


  • Rodriguez relishing leadership of Katusha’s Ardennes challenge

    Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) could win today
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 11:39 BST
    Peter Cossins

    No longer in Valverde's shadow

    Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha) is relishing the change of emphasis in his season that the Ardennes Classics signals. After spending much of the season riding in support of his Katusha teammates, the 30-year-old Catalan will be one of the team’s leaders for the next part of the season running up to and into the Tour de France.

    Already a winner of a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country and the overall title at his ‘home’ race, the Volta a Catalunya, Rodríguez believes that he can have a significant impact in the Ardennes despite a poor showing in Amstel Gold last weekend.

    “He wasn’t too good there because he was suffering a little bit with stomach problems,” his team boss Jef Braeckevelt told La Dernière Heure. Like many others, the Spaniard had been forced to undertake a long car journey to make the start at Amstel.

    Up to this year Rodríguez came to the Ardennes knowing that his task would be to work for his Caisse d’Epargne team leader, Alejandro Valverde. This year, though, he is looking forward to testing himself against Valverde and others on the Mur de Huy today and Liège’s many climbs on Sunday.

    “The Mur de Huy suits me perfectly. I love it!” says the Spaniard. “This time instead of working for Valverde I will be able to play my own card.”

    Bearing in mind that he’s also known as the ‘King of Montelupone’ having twice won at the top of that town’s 22 per cent ramps in Tirreno-Adriatico, his passion for the Mur is understandable. Back that up with his second place in Liège last year, and Rodríguez’s partnership with former Flèche winner...

  • On the start line at Flèche-Wallonne

    The Flèche Wallonne peloton is ready to start
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 14:30 BST
    Cycling News

    The Classics return to Belgium

    The 197-rider peloton gathered in Charleroi for the start of the 74th Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday as the Classics shift back into Belgium for the first time in a fortnight following Paris-Roubaix and t It was appropriate that the race began just south of the home of the European Union (Brussels) as Spain's cycling stars attracted the most attention at the start of the French-organised, Belgian race.

    The commotion at the start caused by the presence of Alberto Contador (Astana) was matched only by the cheers that rang out as Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) strode onto the stage. Held in the Walloon region of Belgium, Fleche and Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege form a home-coming for the 27-year-old Wallonne cycling star. World champion Cadel Evans (BMC) was also popular, as was Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and was another local hero Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia).

    Amstel's start list was severely impacted by the effects of the Icelandic volcano, but with teams and riders adapting to current travel restrictions, most of the scheduled field was able to get the race underway just before 11:30a.m. CET. Some of the Cofidis riders who competed in Turkey failed to make it and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) stayed on after Amstel Gold Race to complete their rosters. Bradley Wiggins was on hand to ensure that Team Sky commenced the race with their full list of eight riders. Sky were one of the teams most representative of the shift in rosters that occurs at this time of the year, with Wiggins, Thomas Lövkvist, Steve Cummings and Chris Froome all starting their first major Classic of the season.

    While team selections had been adapted for the Ardennes, so had the gear selections of the riders in the field. Philippe Gilbert was obviously feeling strong as he opted for a 41/25 low-range combination, while his former teammate and World Champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) had preferenced a more...

  • Saxo Bank strong, but Schlecks fall short at Flèche

    Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) speaks about his chances of victory
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 17:15 BST
    Richard Tyler

    Brothers ready to go on the attack again at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

    Saxo Bank were unable to match their 2009 podium appearance at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, but the Danish squad proved the most active in this year's edition of the race, with Jens Voigt and the Schleck brothers prominent in the critical second half of the race.

    Fränk Schleck indicated that the team will adopt a similar approach to Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.

    Last year's runner-up, Andy Schleck, was again the best placed Saxo Bank rider, in ninth place, 11 seconds down on race winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team). The Luxembourg rider led the peloton on the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy and benefited from brother Fränk then going away in a late-race escape group.

    However, despite being in a strong position for the finale, he lost touch with Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alberto Contador (Astana) and Evans in the closing metres of the race.

    "It was a good situation, I gave it a go and it didn't work out - it happens, " he told Cyclingnews immediately after crossing the finish line in Huy.

    Both the Schleck brothers were strong during the race and had been given a comfortable entry into the final 50 kilometres thanks to Jens Voigt and Laurent Didier's earlier participation in a breakaway chase group.

    Fränk himself then sacrificing himself for his brother benefit when he formed a three-man break with Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) and Davide Loosli (Lampre-Farnese Vini) with 30 kilometres-to-go.

    "I think again our team showed it's strength," Fränk Schleck told Cyclingnews, after finishing 42nd, in a group 0:47 behind Evans. "We showed that we were strong and that the bond between my brother and I is very much together - I think we did an amazing ride together today."

    Although unable to come away with a result at La Flèche Wallonne, the brothers' tandem effort will resume on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where Andy...

  • Contador frustrated but satisfied with third at Flèche Wallonne

    Alberto Contador (Astana)
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 17:41 BST
    Stephen Farrand

    Astana rider becomes a favourite for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

    Alberto Contador (Astana) was clearly frustrated to see victory at Flèche Wallonne snatched from his grasp within sight of the finish line. Yet his third place on the Mur de Huy proved he is far more than a stage race rider and confirmed him as a favourite for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

    Contador's lack of experience on the steep slopes of the Mur cost him dearly. He accelerated too early and became the marker for Cadel Evans to set up his own, better-timed surge to victory. Contador was also passed by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) before the line but third place surely indicates he has the potential to one day win Flèche Wallonne.

    "It was frustrating to get so close but it was still a pretty good result," Contador said.

    "I'm not a Classics specialist, because my best quality is my recovery, but despite that I'm happy with what I achieved today. After the circumstances of the journey to come here it's not bad, but it's also true that when you're so close to victory it's not nice to be third.

    "The whole team rode for me and did a great job, it was just a pity not to win, but I've never been third in a Classic of this level and so I'm happy. We will see what happens on Sunday."

    Contador's third place has made him a favourite for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège but he played down his chances, perhaps in a tactical move so that his Astana team would not have to take control of the race.

    "I'm happy with what I achieved. Now I'm thinking about Liège on Sunday, but I honestly don't know what will happen," he said.

    "Now I'll try to recover and I would obviously like do well, but I know it's a very different race. In Flèche we went through the finish several times but it's not like that in Liège. I do not know how things will go there. Of course if I can win it would almost be like winning a major Tour."

  • Hesjedal rides aggressively at Flèche Wallonne

    Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) took second in the Amstel Gold Race.
    Article published:
    April 21, 2010, 18:33 BST
    Stephen Farrand

    On-form Canadian targets Liège-Bastogne-Liège

    Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) backed up his second place in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race with tenth place at Flèche Wallonne after battling up the Mur de Huy climb just a few seconds behind Cadel Evans (BMC).

    The lanky Canadian knows how to suffer on lung bursting finishing climbs. He was perhaps not perfectly placed for the steep final kilometre but was encouraged by the way he was able to finish right behind Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).

    Hesjedal was best rider at Garmin-Transitions, with Daniel Martin 18th at 19 seconds and Pete Stetina 48th at 56 seconds.

    "I was just behind Andy and Valverde, so it's not that bad," he told Cyclingnews as he tried to recover from his huge effort.

    "I didn’t quite feel as good as I did on Sunday. But that's a good sign because it shows I did a big effort there. Now we've got more time to recover for Liège and so I'm pretty excited about my form and about what I can do."

    The new route for Flèche Wallonne, with the second climb of the Mur de Huy just 30km from the finish, created a different race. Hesjedal made sure he covered any attacks in the aggressive final 30km, but that may have cost him something for the finish. However, it was also a good indication of his excellent form and what he could do at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

    "I did a lot of attacks. I probably shouldn't have done them but you never know. It was a new race route and I just wanted to see if we could get a smaller group going. I decided to race a little more aggressive today, to test the legs a bit. That's going to help for Sunday too. I'm looking forward to it."