After an exceptionally difficult first part of the season because of injuries whilst training and then in Strade Bianche, defending Liège-Bastogne-Liège champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) recognises that he is yet to be firing on all cylinders, but he will nonetheless do his utmost to fight for a second straight victory in La Doyenne.
“I’m probably not quite the level I was hoping to be, I’m missing a few crucial training rides, but it’s definitely coming along,” Gerrans, his eyes hid behind a huge pair of sunglasses, told reporters as he waited for the team presentation on Saturday afternoon in central Liège.
He recognized that winning in Liège in 2014 automatically placed him in the spotlight for 2015, with rivals giving him less room for maneuver, but only up to a point. As he sees it, his absense of results from the first part of the season might well see him garnering less attention than a string of pre-April victories like in 2014 might have generated.
“As far as being extra motivated as defending champion, I’ve always been motivated for this part of the season, it has always been a big focal point of the year, and there’s no doubt that racing with number one on my back is a bit of an honour.”
“But as far as being watched by the rest of the field, you always get a certain amount of attention, but I’m not under such scrutiny as I was last year because I had such a great run-in to the race that time round, and I had some great results beforehand.” - including a third place in Amstel Gold Race.
Through no fault of his own, this year, he has battled to recover from a broken collarbone whilst training this winter and then a broken elbow at Strade Bianche, "I’ve gone completely off the radar,” he said.
At 34, Gerrans forms part of the older generation of Classics specialists that are currently battling against new faces in the Ardennes of the likes of Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) and young French teammate Julien Alaphilippe. However, he argues that the balance of power is still very finely generated.
“For sure there’s a new generation of riders, but if you see there is such a small margin between the guy who wins and the guy who comes in 30th position so we’re maybe seeing a whole new group of guys, but you never know,” he argues.
“The older guys have got experience and a bit of extra strength when it comes to the longer races but the younger generation are definitely putting their nose into there and riding into contention.
Gerrans did not look overly pleased at the prospect that Vincenzo Nibali warned on Friday, whereby Astana may toughen up the race to try to squeeze out fast finishers like the Australian.
“The fresher I can get to the finish, the better my chances, but if you look at the Astana line-up, they haven’t got any big favourites if a reasonable sized group comes together to the finish so obviously it's in their interests to make a selective group and get a small group for the finale.”
However, there is no doubt in Gerrans' mind whom the top favourite will be, “Tell me a season where Valverde hasn’t been good, probably the most consistent performer over the last 10 years, you look at his track record. He never ceases to amaze me how good he is.”
Last year, it shouldn’t be forgotten too quickly that Gerrans got the better of the Spaniard in La Doyenne - and Liège is anything but a predictable race.
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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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