News feature, April 30, 2007
A dream come true in Ans
"The Killer" has returned to make amends to the missing piece from his magical 2005 season by winning Belgium's oldest Classic, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Italian Danilo Di Luca escaped with Fränk Schleck just after the Côte du Saint-Nicolas and then attacked the Luxembourger at 400 metres to go to add the third of three Ardennes classics to his palmarès. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Ans to hear Di Luca's reaction to his win.
"I thought of this race for the past nine years - since I turned professional," said Di Luca, who turned professional with Riso Scotti in 1998. He had just captured the 93rd running of Liège in front of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Fränk Schleck (Team CSC).
After 262 kilometres of racing and more than six hours through the rolling Ardennes in Southeast Belgium, Di Luca noted that this race was one that was always on his mind. "I always thought that this was the most beautiful race and the one for me. Today I am very, very satisfied with what I have accomplished."
Like in the Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, where he finished third in both races, Di Luca had the help of a strong Liquigas team. Riders like Franco Pellizotti and Alessandro Spezialetti were there helping him be positioned for the win.
"Danilo showed he was the strongest, I am happy for him after his miss two years ago," recalled the curly-haired Pellizotti after the finish. "It is also important for him after he was so close in Flèche Wallonne. The team worked very well and we did well in these Belgian races."
Di Luca was proud of his companions and repaid them in the best way, with a win in Ans. "I dedicate this win to all of my team-mates," continued Di Luca on the hot day in Ans. "They truly did a great job today."
April 29 will always be an important day for him, and not just because of the Classic win. "23 years ago I raced my first race, I was eight years old, and it was something very special to mark that anniversary with that win. Now, at the age of 31, I think that without a doubt that this is my most beautiful win because it is my favourite race. It has always been my dream race and to win this race was truly bella.
Early Sunday morning, at the start in Liège, Di Luca had the confidence of a winner. "I feel good this morning," he noted to Cyclingnews at 9.30 in Liège's Place Saint-Lambert. "I should be a protagonist with the other favourites."
He showed himself to be a protagonist by appearing on the race's final, critical climbs: the Côte du Sart-Tilman and the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. "I really was able to make a grand race today; I showed that I am one of the best in cycling.
"Valverde is one of the best; he is a great champion," he noted of the Spaniard who won the race in 2006. "He started his attack at 500 metres from the line and then dropped all the favourites. He showed that last year was no fluke by attacking and almost closing in on me."
Di Luca had to deal not only with Valverde but with many other top riders. The tactics were played out at the highest level, forcing Di Luca to limit his attack to one crucial point.
"Cycling is always this way," he explained of the high number of potential race winners. "There are always more and more racers who can win. The point is to attack at the right moment. What I did today I almost did in the Flèche Wallonne; I could not win there but the attack was the same there as it was here today. I think that in the future you will see this more and more because the level of the sport is getting higher and higher.
"I was one of the strongest but I think that I won thanks to my tactics." Di Luca, who was away with Schleck with four kilometres to go and attacked to win at 400 metres to the line. "Last year I attacked on Saint-Nicolas [at 5.5 kilometres to go - ed.]. I had the force to attack there today but I decided to stay with Schleck and fight for the win on the finale into Ans. I heard that Valverde had attacked the group behind so then I knew it was my time to go. We could not have risked that they would come back from behind."
Like he did in 2005 Danilo Di Luca has won an important Ardennes Classic but this year he hopes to do even better in the Giro d'Italia, which starts in 13 days.
"In the Giro d'Italia I hope to be a protagonist; I think that I am at the same level of form that I had going into the 2005 edition. Between now and then I will not race but I will go to preview some of the stages. I will have a look at the two most difficult mountain stages; the climbs of Zoncolan and the Tre Cima di Lavaredo. The rest of the climbs I know pretty well from racing before."
Expect to see a confident DI Luca at the start of the Corsa Rosa when it departs from Sardegna on May 12, with the 24 kilometre team time trial.