The pre-race mind games have begun with the Liège-Bastogne-Liège favourites trying to deflect the pressure onto one of their rivals. Despite having won Amstel Gold, seen as a mini-Liège, Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) believes that Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde goes into this Sunday’s race with the competitive edge.
“He’s the most experienced rider, he knows how to prepare for such a hard week,” Kwiatkowski told reporters. “I would have loved to be in shape on Wednesday but I couldn’t make it and that’s experience I needed for the future. Valverde already has that and I think that he will be in the same big shape on Sunday.”
Kwiatkowski had a disappointing Flèche Wallonne earlier in the week, slipping off the bunch on the steepest part of the Mur de Huy and finally finishing 38 seconds behind the winner Valverde. Fortunately for Etixx-QuickStep, his teammate Julian Alaphilippe was able to step up to the plate and deliver the team a second place. With time to regroup since then, Kwiatkowski is happy that he’s where he needs to be for Sunday’s race.
“I feel more relaxed than compared to the day after the Amstel Gold Race, so I should be better,” he explained. “I feel more and more freshness on the bike, so that’s better. I hope that it’s enough for such a long race because you need to be in condition. I think I’ve had enough recovery before Liège.”
Kwiatkowski finished third at last year’s race, losing out in the sprint to Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Valverde. The new route is expected to be more selective this year but the Polish rider doesn’t think that it will change too much in the grand scheme of things. “The pace was pretty high last year and we had a pretty big group for the final,” he said.
“It depends what the plan of the biggest favourite, Valverde, is... and if they want to control it so that they have a sprint then it’s going to be a bigger group. For sure, guys like Nibali want to play before because they cannot really count on their sprint. I am one of the riders who can count on their sprint so I’ll be waiting for the final.”
Despite being world champion and winner of Amstel, Kwiatkowski was largely unbothered by the press as he waited to be presented to the crowd with the rest of his teammates. In fact it was Alaphilippe that received the most attention after his performance at Flèche. The young Frenchman will be riding his first Liège-Bastogne-Liège, riding in support of Kwiatkowski. Also back in action is Zdenek Stybar, who has been training in Mallorca following Paris-Roubaix.
“Having Styby and Alaphilippe is really good. I didn’t really have that much support in the end last year, which is really necessary because in La Roche-aux-Faucons or Saint Nicolas or even La Redoute there is always some acceleration, maybe not from the favourite but from an important rider,” Kwiatkowski said.
“If you are not able to control them you need to gamble but I don’t really want to do it. It’s better to have someone always in the front and play the different cards, and for sure Alaphilippe and Styby are guys who can even go for the win.”
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