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The riders line-up for the start of La Doyenne
The centre of Liège was loaded with team buses on Sunday morning as the peloton gathered for the start of the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 258 kilometre event marks the last race in the month-long series of spring Classics, and as the oldest and toughest event of all, it is revered in the professional peloton and attracts some of the biggest stage race and one-day specialists.
After a week of clear blue skies there were a few drops of rain at the start in Liège as the last of the teams signed-on outside Liège's town hall. Alberto Contador's Astana teammates wasted no time with the protocol as their team bus deposited the riders at the foot of the sign-on stage. In contrast, Cadel Evans' BMC Racing Team missed arrived too late at the sign-on podium and all the riders are likely to receive a minor fine from race organiser, Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO).
Last year, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) claimed a solo victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, after launching a powerful attack on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Schleck and his brother Fränk have promised another day of attacks on the côtes that distinguish the race, including the legendary Côte de la Redoute and the final Côte Saint-Nicholas.
While both the Schlecks are counted amongst the favourites, Amstel Gold Race winner and local hero Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has assumed the mantle of outright favourite here in Liege. The Belgian was again greeted with enthusiastic cheers by his many fans, but appeared nervous as he lined up on the start line. Former winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) looked relaxed, as he p to add to his 2006 and 2008 titles at the race.
Valverde's former teammate Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished second last year, 1:17 behind a solo Andy Schleck and will be hoping he has the form to go one better this season. The USA's Chris Horner (RadioShack) and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) will carry North American hopes. They will be trying to be the first North American to win 'La Doyenne' since Tyler Hamilton in 2003.