The Russian Katusha team, twice beaten by Lotto's Philippe Gilbert this week, has vowed to take revenge at Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At both Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, Joaquim Rodriguez missed out on victory, and his team is highly motivated to make amends at 'La Doyenne', the most prestigious of the three Ardennes races.
"I'm an optimist," Rodriguez said when asked whether he thought he could beat Gilbert, the new super-favourite for Liège. "There are only few riders who have been able to win all three races [just one, Davide Rebellin in 2004 - ed.]. Danilo Di Luca, in 2005, won Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne easily, but then he wasn't at his best in Liège and he lost.
"Philippe Gilbert will of course be the great favourite, but I have also shown that I'm in great form, and I will of course try to win."
Sunday's event will be raced on a much harder and longer course than Flèche Wallonne, the Katusha team already has its strategy established: make the race as hard as possible to drain all energy out of the Belgian team and its leader. To do so, Rodriguez counts on his entire squad as well as one particular superdomestique: Alexander Kolobnev, a Classics hunter in his own right.
The Russian, who finished fifth in Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, launched an attack with 30 kilometres to go in Flèche Wallonne, and it paid off. "I tried to anticipate, with the objective being to make life difficult for Gilbert. I think this strategy was really good, because when I went into the escape, all the Lotto riders came up front to protect their leader. In the end, we only lacked very little for the win, like at Amstel Gold Race," Kolobnev told Velochrono.
For the upcoming Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Katusha team promises more of the same fireworks. "I think that strategy will be the same. Anticipate the attacks to make Gilbert work, as he is the favourite."