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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition News for April 27, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

89th Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Armstrong the favourite

After his eighth place in last week's Amstel Gold Race and his obvious desire to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Lance Armstrong (US Postal-Berry Floor) is tipped to be the favourite in tomorrow's race. Having twice finished second (in 1994 and 1996), the American is set to go one better, although he will have a number of serious rivals to contend with.

According to his official website Lancearmstrong.com, the two things that make Liège-Bastogne-Liège special to him are: "1, It's incredibly hard and 2, it's a monument in cycling along with Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Lombardia. I hope to have a good race and try for the win."

Armstrong told Cyclingnews after Amstel that "I only needed a reference (form check) in Amstel and I'm happy where I am," he said, adding that he didn't contest the sprint because he wasn't interested in another second place in the Dutch classic.

On Wednesday, team director Johan Bruyneel noted that Armstrong was strong in Amstel, and the fact that he didn't have to fly back to the US for the Ride for the Roses this week was important. With a week's recovery and training on the tough climbs near his home in Girona, Spain, Armstrong will be ready to go again on Sunday.

Eddy Merckx tips Lance

Five time Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Eddy Merckx believes that Lance Armstrong will finally claim victory in L-B-L, after twice finishing second. "I really don't see how anyone can beat Armstrong," said Merckx in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "Lance can do it and he is motivated. You don't need more than that. I especially agree with not doing La Flèche Wallonne. That's a totally different race. Furthermore, after the Tour of the Basque Country the riders get - in contrast to the previous years - over a week without competition. Then quite a hard Gold Race and three days later the Flèche Wallonne. That will be felt in the legs. In Liège, the men will be back however."

Saeco confident

After consistent performances in nearly all the spring classics, the Saeco team is looking at Liège-Bastogne-Liège with optimism, especially after Igor Astarloa's win in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. At a press conference on the eve of the rest, team director Guido Bontempi said that "Our race tactics are a secret but we will certainly be trying to make the race go the way we want it to. We know we have four or five riders who are competitive and so we will be trying to use them before the Redoute climb."

Apart from Astarloa, the team has Danilo Di Luca and Mirko Celestino, who finished 3rd in Amstel and 2nd in Milan-San Remo respectively. Di Luca said that "This will only be my second Liège-Bastogne-Liège but it was love at first sight for me. I feel that this is an important moment in my career and a win on Sunday would mean a lot both to me on a personal level and to the team. It's not the race of my life but I'm very, very motivated."

Di Luca crashed in training this week, after slipping on a patch of oil on a descent and scraping his elbow and leg. But he is not demoralised at all. "Compared to a week ago at the Amstel Gold Race, I've improved even more. I feel exactly how I want to: ready to give it a go. Armstrong is the number one favourite but I'm not afraid of going head to head with him."

Mirko Celestino agreed, as did Igor Astarloa. "The great thing about the team is that we know we can compete with the best," said Astarloa. "We ready for any kind of race, even for an early breakaway."

Di Luca also pointed to the World Cup standings. "We have a great chance for the World Cup. It's a great chance to improve our points total. We're number one in the team rankings and we've got a great chance of taking the lead in the individual standings. Even in a sprint finish we'd still have a great chance," added Di Luca.

In contrast to last year, no Italians have won any of the Belgian classics, and Paolo Bettini's win in Milan-San Remo remains the only Italian World Cup victory this season. Liège is thus the last chance for Di Luca or Celestino to win a classic before they break for the second half of the season. Neither Di Luca nor Celestino will ride the Giro d'Italia. One will ride the Tour de France; the other will ride the Vuelta, while both will be in action in the summer rounds of the World Cup.

"We want to have as many points as we can for then, that's why Liège is so important," they said.

No great expectations for Ullrich

Jan Ullrich (Team Coast) will take the start in tomorrow's 89th Liège-Bastogne-Liège for only the second time in his career, and says that he has no illusions about winning the 258 km monument, or even finishing for that matter. The last time he raced it was in 1995, his first season as a pro, and he stopped after 100 km.

"I'll try to do a good race, but let's not dream," said Ullrich, who trained over parts of the parcours on Friday. "I am and remain extremely happy with my win on Easter Monday in Cologne. The German press really doesn't know the difference between a second category race and a really tough World Cup race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. If you can win the first, then it'll be OK with the second. As if it's so simple. I know better and will keep my feet on the ground."

Only two Germans have won La Doyenne in its 111 year history: Herman Buse in 1930 and Didi Thurau in 1979. Although when fully fit, Ullrich possesses the right qualities to win this classic, it's unlikely this time around. "He rode well in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, although he was pretty finished at the end," said Ullrich's team director Rudy Pevenage. "Everything is going to plan in training, so yes we have nothing to lose. A place in the top 30 would be nice."

VDB feeling good

After training over parts of the parcours on Friday, 1999 winner Frank Vandenbroucke said that he felt in top shape for Sunday. Together with his teammates, Vandenbroucke rode for three hours in the Ardennes, finishing atop the Côte de Wanne. "I went this morning with great morale," he said to Het Nieuwsblad. "I had supersensations, all the hills I did at the maximum of my capacities."

Vandenbroucke said that the Quick.Step team rode "too passively" in Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne, where he was their best placed rider in 24th. "On Sunday it'll be different and better. Paolini and I will wait as long as possible, all the others have to try to go in a break."

Vandenbroucke named Boogerd as his chief rival, and hopes for a repeat of the situation in 1999 when he dropped him on the Côte de Saint Nicolas.

Van Petegem should keep World Cup jersey

Unless Alexandre Vinokourov wins tomorrow and Peter Van Petegem finishes outside the points, the Belgian World Cup leader should keep his jersey for the second half of the season. In the World Cup standings, Van Petegem sits on 200 points, with Dario Pieri (who is not riding) on 117 points, and Paolo Bettini (who is not riding) and Alexandre Vinokourov both on 100 points. If Vino wins again as he did last week, he'll have 200 points, which will put him equal to Van Petegem, provided the latter scores no points. Only in that scenario will Vinokourov take the jersey, as the most recent winner of a World Cup.

For his part, Van Petegem says that he knows he can never win Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "I'll try and have a good race," he said. "Then we'll see."

Domina Vacanze-Elitron prepares

The eight riders of the Domina Vacanze-Elitron team prepared themselves for Liège-Bastogne-Liège by training over the last 100 km of the parcours on Friday. Going with them for the ride was team director Palmiro Masciarelli. One of the team's key riders, Michele Scarponi, summed it up as follows:

"It's a difficult race, demanding, and above all, long," said Scarponi. "It's possible for me to be a protagonist. The legs are perfect, I feel in good physical condition."

As for the parcours, "The last two climbs before the finish will be decisive for those who want to win the race. I hope to be there in front and to have a chance at the victory."

Domina Vacanze-Elitron for L-B-L: Michele Scarponi (Ita), Lorenzo Cardellini (Ita), Massimo Giunti (Ita), Kyrylo Pospeyev (Ukr), Alexander Kolobnev (Rus), Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Spa), Ruben Lobato (Spa), Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel).

Wet weather predicted

In contrast to the rest of the spring classics this season, tomorrow's Liège-Bastogne-Liège will probably be run under wet conditions, according to the Belgian metrological bureau. Belgium received its first drenching for some time on Saturday morning, with heavy showers falling across the country. Tomorrow it's predicted that it will rain also, being concentrated in the afternoon. Temperatures should reach 14 degrees in the Ardennes.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 89th Liège-Bastogne-Liège from start to finish. Coverage begins at 10:00 CEST/04:00 EDT, 01:00 PDT, 18:00 AEST).

Also see:

Preview and history
Map and timetable
Final start list

Baden Cooke's saddle

In order to help alleviate a large saddle sore that has plagued him this spring, FDJeux.com's Baden Cooke has been trying out a new saddle. In response to a number of reader questions, Cyclingnews asked him what type of saddle it was. "I am now riding a Selle Italia Flight Max 'Trans Am', which has a hole in the middle of it," said Cooke, who hopes to return to racing very soon.

Cyclingnews will also be reviewing one of these saddles in future.

Marco Polo adds three

The Marco Polo division III team has added three riders to its roster for this season, with more to come later on in the year. The team has signed Asian star Kam Po Wong from Hong Kong, as well as Tim Wilson from Australia and Robin Reid from New Zealand. Marco Polo will add two more riders later: Masahiko Mifune from Japan and Rasmus Madsen from Denmark. Rasmus crashed hard in the Tour of Thailand but has almost completely recovered.

(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)