"The counter is reset to zero" is how Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) describes his feelings about racing on Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège where, he insists, he is "one of several favourites."
The recent winner of the Flèche Wallonne told a small group of journalists on Friday afternoon that the victory in the Belgian mid-week Classic "has done me a lot of good, [it is] one I've been waiting for a long time, and the joy and motivation from that will stay in my heart. But Liège-Bastogne-Liège is another race.
"To finish second in Liège, as I did in my first ever participation there [in 2015, after working for former Quick Step racer Michal Kwiatkowski - Ed.], was a huge surprise and a real pleasure. But just as in Flèche Wallonne a lot of riders will be up there and may be able to win it. It's not just a question of me focussing on [four-time winner Alejandro] Valverde, you have to look out for many different names."
"The distance is different, the route is longer, so we will see on Sunday. For Liège, the counter has been reset to zero."
Regarding Valverde, Alaphilippe said he had met the Spaniard by chance during Friday's training reconnaissance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and he had once again been congratulated by the Movistar rider. "It's gradually hitting home what a big victory this was. Alejandro gave it everything but he realised it was my day. I've been beaten by him in the past and this time the roles were reversed, and that he took it so well and congratulated me like that shows what a class act he is. That's why I respect him and his team so much."
Earlier in Friday's press conference, Alaphilippe's teammate Philippe Gilbert pointed to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) as a real danger man for Sunday, whilst the Frenchman singled out Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), fifth on Wednesday, as a key favourite. "He rode very well in Flèche Wallonne and he's got a very fast finish. It won't be a full-on bunch sprint in Liège, either, but being up there in Flèche was a sign of what he can do."
Alaphilippe warned again that Sunday was a very different race, although he revealed he was very pleased that the exceptionally warm weather in Belgium this week looks set to last at least for another 48 hours.
When asked if he had seen the videos of Bernard Hinault, France's last winner of La Doyenne, riding to victory in a blizzard in 1980, Alaphilippe grimaced and said "Two years ago" - the last time the Quick-Step racer did Liège, finishing 23rd - "we had some really awful weather, and although that wasn't the reason for my performance, I certainly prefer it when it's warm and dry."
"But for now, I'm only thinking of one thing: being there at the start and being up there at the finish."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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