On the eve of the 100th Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 2013 Tour de France Champion Chris Froome was seen by many as a favourite to claim La Doyenne and close out the last of the Ardennes races in style. Team Sky were already entering the race down on numbers and when Froome announced on the morning of the race that a mild-chest infection was forcing him out of the race, it would prove to be an innocuous day in the saddle for the 263km that the world's oldest one-day race covered.
"It was pretty tough out there but it was a really nice experience," said Earle after his first Ardennes campaign. "This has been one of my favourite races ever since I started cycling. It’s a bit of a dream come true just to ride it, let alone finish it. It was a tough day but I’m happy to be able to finish it for the team."
Pete Kennaugh was another absentee for the race who missed out as a result of illness as Dave Brailsford explained to reporters at the start of the race that: "he's just feeling empty, you know, he's been feeling that for the last few days and when somebody's like that there's no point in pushing on. You've got to cut your losses and get him right."
David Lopez was forced out of the monument after a crash with 76km and from there it was going to be tough to recover. Making his return to one-day racing for the year, Richie Porte also failed to finish as he continues to recover from illness that forced him out his season goal, victory in the Giro d'Italia. Since announcing that he did not have the racing legs to be competitive for the three-week grand tour, Porte has turned his attention to helping Froome defend his Tour title.
Froome an Porte will line up for the team at the Tour of Romandie, another race Froome won last year, hoping for a far better performance than Sunday's as the team once seen as invisible, begin to show some cracks.
Brailsford explained to small group of reporters at the start of Liège that a spate of bad luck had helped perpetuate the suggestion Sky are no longer a force to be reckoned with compared to previous years.
"When you actually analyse and look at all of the illnesses and crashes we've had this year, we've had proportionally more than you’d expect to have and when you look at the last couple of years, we've had proportionally less than you’d expect to have. It’s like we've saved them all up and had them at once…."
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