Gerrans driven to add a second Liege-Bastogne-Liege title to his name

For Simon Gerrans the lure of winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège again is no less because he already has a win in Europe's oldest classic and the fourth of five monuments to his name.

If anything, the Australian's desire to add another victory in the 261km race through the hilly and forested Belgian Ardennes to his triumph in it from 2014 is greater than before.

"It is probably even more so now," Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), 35, told Cyclingnews. "I always thought Liège was a race a little bit beyond my reach until I actually won it. When you win a race it definitely gives you plenty of confidence going back [to race it] in future editions.

"Now I know I am capable of winning a race of that calibre and that difficulty. If anything it probably makes it more important because you have lots more confidence going into [the race]."

Gerrans' last win was in the Tour Down Under in January where he took out two stages and the overall classification. But he is buoyed for Sunday's ‘La Doyenne' by his form during his second build up for the year that began at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, where he was sixth on stage 5 and fourth on stage 6. Then at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco he had a third place finish on stage 1 and second on stage 3. At last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race he was 11th.

Gerrans did not want to dwell on the ‘whys and what ifs' of the Amstel Gold Race, where Australian teammate Michael Mathews placed fifth which led some to question if the pair should have ridden for each other. All he would say, when asked, was that their team rode to its plan that catered for two potential winners and that first placed Italian Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Gobert) was the strongest rider on the day.

Gerrans, third in the Amstel in 2011, 2013, and 2014, started and finished the Dutch race with winning firmly on his mind.

"When the team plan is for me to help one of my teammates, I commit 100 per cent and do whatever I can for them. I have proven to do this time and time again in the past," Gerrans said. "Likewise when the team think I have a good chance of a result and I am a protected rider, I give my all to go for the win.

"Amstel is a race where I have a good track record. I had a solid build up this year. The plan was for me to try to win. Unfortunately, I wasn't capable of finishing off the great work from my teammates in getting the result we hoped for.

"Gasparotto was the strongest guy there. He rode away and won the race. Regardless, if we had of followed a different plan there is not too much we could have done about that."

Winning at Liège: form over tactics is the key

For Gerrans, it is now all about racing Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"I am feeling good about Liège," Gerrans said. "I had a really good preparation with Catalunya and the Basque Country. I had good legs going into Amstel. I didn't really feel like I got it all out at Amstel due to the conditions and things. I had a good week of training. Now I have my sights set on Liège."

Gerrans believes Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a classic where form can pay dividends, whereas at a race like the Amstel Gold Race tactics can have a greater influence on the result.

"It's a pretty honest race that's for sure," Gerrans said of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "The guy with the best legs generally comes up close to the top. Liège is tactical, but Amstel is very tactical with positioning and how you approach the course."

Gerrans is feeling better than this time last year where his year was unravelling with crashes, including one at Liège-Bastogne-Liège while wearing the No. 1 as defending champion where he "ended up sliding down the road a couple of times".

"It's chalk and cheese to a year ago. I have stayed intact which is a big step in the right direction. Physically I am feeling really good. Mentally, having some good results early in the season, I'm in a good place and motivated. I'm smack in the middle of my second big period for the season. I'm raring to go."

After Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gerrans will back up for the Tour de Romandie that starts on Tuesday and finishes next Sunday, and then fly to Brazil for reconnaissance of the Olympic road race course in Rio with Australian men's road coach and selector Brad McGee and a number of other riders, including Richie Porte (BMC), who will also line up for the Liège - Bastogne - Liège and Tour de Romandie double.

"There has been a lot of talk about the Olympic Games road race," Gerrans said. "I'm keen to go and have a look at it.

"A few of the guys saw the course last year at the test event. It's also always good to hang out with a different group of Aussies and go on a trip like this and [to] have a good look at the course and check out Rio for the first time."

Orica-GreenEdge: a team for all terrain and races

After the Rio trip, as with all the peloton, attention will turn to the Grand Tours, and for Gerrans another Tour de France start in July.

Gerrans is excited about the upcoming prospects of his Orica-GreenEdge team that is proving to be an increasingly adaptable outfit to compete in all types of terrain and races: from cobbles to hills and mountains, and from the one day classics to tours ranging from one to three weeks' duration.

"You can see the whole thing is growing and developing," Gerrans said. "When you look at the roster, how young our roster still is and particularly how young it was a few years ago, all the young talented guys we have signed are maturing and racing better and better and becoming more and more competitive in these big races. We are seeing a more complete Orica-GreenEdge line up in nearly every race we start."

There have been a number of stand outs in Gerrans' view.

"A few guys have made a really good progression this year," Gerrans said. "Luke Durbridge … We saw him take a big step in the cobbled classics. He was really active in the races and really aggressive in each one of those races. It was good to see him make a progression, but by no means was that a surprise.

"Then you have this young group of climbers that really came to the limelight last year in the two Yates [brothers] – with Simon Yates being ever so consistent in the stage races, and Adam Yates winning Clasica San Sebastian - and [Esteban] Chaves and his breakthrough performance in the Vuelta [a Espana with fifth overall, two stage wins and six days in the overall leader's red jersey] and then [winning the] Abu Dhabi [Tour] at the very end of the season. All these guys are going from strength to strength. It's an exciting time for the team."

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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.

An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.