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Chris Horner (RadioShack) looked relaxed before the start
RadioShack captain confident, Valverde the biggest threat in a sprint
Chris Horner (RadioShack) believes he will have his best chance of winning an Ardennes Classic at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race he describes as the "best one-day race in the world".
Horner will captain RadioShack on Sunday in his third appearance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He finished eighth in his first appearance in 2006 and feels the profile of the 258-kilometre route is better suited to his strengths than the first two Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne.
"Liège is a much better course for me with the climbs being basically twice as long as they were at Amstel and at Flèche, so for me I think there's a much better chance of going for the win here than the other races," Horner told Cyclingnews at the team presentation in Liège on Saturday afternoon.
"I feel really confident. I don't think there's anybody I can't go with on the climbs, so it's going to come down to tactics; making the right moves and not making any mistakes before you get there."
Despite top-ten finishes at Amstel Gold Race (10th) and Flèche Wallonne (6th) this year, Horner admitted that of the three Ardennes Classics he feels most comfortable on the Liège course. He raced the event in each of his two seasons with Belgian team Predictor-Lotto (2006 and 2007), and after surveying the course this week said expects the race's penultimate climb, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, where Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) launched his race-winning attack last year, to once again prove a pivotal point on Sunday.
"I know the course here really well," he said. "Amstel - I've raced many times, but they change it so you don't know the course. Flèche - I'm not real familiar with the course, so I don't know where to be at the right time and spend some energy here and there. But at Liège we rode the last 100 kilometres and I'm familiar with the race. When you know it better you spend less energy.
"It looks like the race on Sunday will stay together longer, but I think it will explode before the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. The thing is, last time I did this race, we came into Saint-Nicolas with 70 guys. Now we'll be coming into it in smaller groups, maybe even ones and twos. But there's not going to be 70 guys coming into it, especially with the [Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons] before it - that is a hard climb."
Horner showed little hesitation in describing Liège-Bastogne-Liège as the most prestigious one-day race in the world. While he enters the race with good condition after his top-ten Classic results and recent overall victory at the Tour of Catalunya, he knows he will face the stiffest competition on Sunday.
"That's what makes Liège the best one-day race in the world. It's the only race where you have GC favourites, all the Classics favourites racing together - it's the best field you'll ever see in Europe, aside from the Tour de France, and that's what makes it the best one-day race in the world," he said.
"Everyone talks about Flanders as this great one-day race, but it has nothing compared to Liège in my book because you have ten guys maybe that can win there and you have 40 guys who can win here."
Horner singled-out one rider in particular as the biggest threat on Sunday, two-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
"I don't ever want to sprint at the finish. The ideal way [to win] is to finish solo at this race, but that's hard to do nowadays," he said.
"Normally, it's a group of five or something like that, hopefully you don't have a Valverde with you or something, because that guy's got the whole package when it comes to being a bike racer. His sprint is unbelievable and he can time trial, he can climb, so as long as you don't have a Valverde with you or possibly a Cunego. I'd rather have Cunego than Valverde, because Valverde's still so fresh at the finish. Without Valverde, things will be different."