Astana decide to start in Liege-Bastogne-Liege despite Scarponi's death

The usually rumbustious team presentation for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Saturday had a very different mood this year as the peloton struggled to come to grips with the death of Michele Scarponi that morning.

It has been confirmed that Astana, headed by Jakob Fuglsang, will start in the race. At the start of the race, the eight Astana riders will stand at the front of the peloton, with a minute's applause and remembrance set to be held for their fallen teammate.

The team's sports directors were present for the afternoon's meeting, although Astana did not take part in the presentation, which took place inside the pavilion at the Palais des Eveques in central Liège.

During the team presentation, when it was Astana's scheduled slot to be brought forward, a single figure went up to the podium, bearing the Kazakhstan flag. Following a short speech in honour of Scarponi by race director Christian Prudhomme, there was a minute's silence followed by a brief slide show of images of Scarponi, the last shot with his arms aloft as he celebrated the opening stage victory in the Tour of the Alps last Monday.

Although there was applause and music during the rest of the team presentation, it was more muted than other years, and the mood amongst the peloton waiting outside the main pavilion was, as Christian Prudhomme told a small group of reporters, that of a group of people in collective shock.

"It's a very hard moment, and perhaps even more so than usual because as we all know he was racing just yesterday [Friday], and on the social networks he'd put up a picture of himself and the leader's jersey with his children. Then he went home as quickly as he could and went out training this morning early."

"There's a real feeling of sadness today in the peloton, and, of course, here in Liège-Bastogne-Liège."

Riders and directors repeatedly mentioned Michele Scarponi's popularity and charisma, and as Prudhomme put it himself, "He was somebody really appreciated in the peloton, the kind of guy who was always cheerful, always able to lift people's mood. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, his children, his widow and his team."

Prudhomme highlighted that incidents like this - tragically - highlighted the need for more road safety campaigns and "for the most vulnerable element on the road, and that's always the cyclist, to be able to ride as securely as possible."

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