By Tim Maloney, European Editor
With the main protagonists of the upcoming Giro d'Italia front and center at last weekend's Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic, the challenge between CSC's Ivan Basso, Lampre-Fondital's Damiano Cunego and 2005 ProTour winner Danilo Di Luca of Liquigas-Bianchi became more acute as each rider was able to judge each others' condition in a fast, hard edition of L-B-L. Basso's CSC squad has been exceptionally strong this season, and the 'Doyenne' was no exception as the Danish squad flexed its muscles and took command of last Sunday's classic by imposing an infernal pace at the front in the second half of the race.
"Our team (CSC) tried every way to get the win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège", explained Basso post-race. "The only mistake we made was when Bettini attacked at the top of the Sart-Tillman climb. I was behind and was surprised by his move. And so was Schleck. Bettini's move was a good one and it could have been one to go with. But in any case, I'm feeling good form now." Commenting on his likely Giro rival Cunego, Basso explained, "Cunego? I knew he had good form; all the riders who are favourites for the Giro were up front at Liège." When La Gazzetta dello Sport's Gigi Perna asked Basso if he knew Cunego was marking him closely all day, he replied in the affirmative. "Yes, I realized he pulled me back when I attacked in the final kilometre, and that wasn't the only time."
Cunego was happy for his podium performance at L-B-L. "It was a good performance for me because almost no-one thought I would be a favourite," explained the rider from Cerro Veronese. "I did better than expected and next year when I ride this race, I want to try and win." As for his emerging rivalry with CSC's Ivan Basso, Cunego commented that "CSC worked hard all day and Basso tried some attacks, but he just wasn't fast in the sprint."
Less evident that either Basso or Cunego was Di Luca, but the Liquigas-Bianchi man, who ended up 9th in Liège, is behind both riders in his Giro preparation. "I felt good on the climb of St. Nicolas and wanted to attack," explained Di Luca, but that messed me up in the sprint, when I just didn't have the legs. Too bad, because I think I rode really well on Sunday." All three ambitious Italians have their next appointment at the start of the Giro d'Italia in Seraing, Belgium on Saturday, May 6.