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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for April 28, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

89th Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Spring goal accomplished for Hamilton

What will July hold?

By Jeff Jones

Tyler Hamilton
Photo: © Luc Claessens
Click for larger image

In winning the 89th Liege-Bastogne-Liege yesterday, Tyler Hamilton (CSC) accomplished one of his major goals this spring, where he was focusing on La Flèche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the upcoming Tour de Romandie. After the race yesterday, Hamilton said that he was disappointed at Flèche Wallonne when he didn't make the break, however his form on the day gave him confidence for Liege, where he surprised himself by attacking with three kilometres to go to win.

"Flèche, Liege, and the Tour of Romandy have been my focus for the spring," Hamilton said at the post-race press conference of his plans this season. "I have other goals in July. I've been training very hard this spring for these two weeks. On Wednesday in Flèche Wallonne I was a little disappointed because that ten man breakaway got away and I felt like I had good legs, so I was confident going into the race today of doing a good result."

He did better than that, and became the first American ever to win the race. "This is great for my confidence," said Hamilton. "This is a victory really for the team, not for me. I really believe that we had the strongest team in the race. Before the first climb on the way back we set a hard tempo on the small roads. A lot of people wondered why but we wanted to wear down the peloton. When I saw there were maybe 80-90 finishers I think that's partly because of the work I did."

There can only be one winner

Lance and Tyler
Photo: © Jeff Tse
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Hamilton's win in Liege came at the expense of his former team captain Lance Armstrong, whom Hamilton shares an apartment building with in Girona, Spain. Armstrong was away with Sanchez and Shefer in the closing stages when Bjarne Riis ordered CSC's Nicki Sorensen and Carlos Sastre to chase them down. They did so, and by the foot of the Côte de St Nicolas with 6 km to go, Armstrong's group was within striking distance. A final acceleration by Armstrong on the climb failed to shake the chasers off, and the race came back together over the top.

"As for Lance I think he was the strongest guy in the race today," commented Hamilton. "After being in that break he was still very strong on that last climb here. Maybe I was lucky he burned a few matches there."

"I'm sure he's happy for me and if the roles were reversed I would have been happy for him. I've learned a lot from Lance...I've been teammates with him for a number of years and we're still pretty close. I trained with him a lot and helped him win three Tours de France. Without that experience with Lance I don't think I'd be here today."

Having beaten Armstrong in a race he wanted to win, Hamilton was asked the obvious question: Can you beat Armstrong in the Tour? "Nobody's hurt him in the last four years so that's a difficult question," replied Hamilton. "He's proven in the Tour de France he's been the strongest by far over the last four years. Until somebody shows they're on the same page as him, for me he's going to be a tough one to beat that's for sure."

Despite that, the Tour de France remains Hamilton's big objective for the year. "But to say to win...I just want to get there. I've done the Tour six times but I've never done it 100 percent for myself. I just want to get there in my best possible condition and give it 110 percent effort. Where I am in Paris I'll be happy if I'm able to give it a good effort."

Kudos for Bjarne Riis

Tyler Hamilton also gave credit to his 'new' directeur sportif Bjarne Riis, who signed him in 2002 to be a team leader, something that Hamilton was unused to in his years at USPS. "I owe him a lot of credit," said Hamilton. "He has really gotten me to believe in myself, change my attitude towards myself, he's changed my focus, my training. He's really changed everything. It's not to say [that it was bad] on US Postal - I look back and those were good years, those were fun years. I wouldn't trade those years for anything."

Hamilton admitted that it was a "big adjustment" going from a domestique at US Postal to a team leader at CSC. Last year I wouldn't say I was perfect at it. Everybody has to learn and I still have some learning to do."

The test came in the Giro d'Italia, where Hamilton finished second overall, despite fracturing his shoulder in a crash during the first week of the three week tour. Hamilton was clearly in pain during the race, but bore it remarkably well, especially as he wore out a few teeth.

"I had to get 11 teeth replaced because I was grinding them, I was in so much pain," he said. "Whether I was on my bike or laying in bed I was always grinding them. It shows you how much pain I was in during the race. But the whole team in the Giro was supporting me. I didn't want to give up. I worked so hard to get to that point. It's amazing how you can put pain behind you."

"He [Bjarne Riis] believed in me and I didn't want to let him down. He invited me to this team and put me in a whole new role as a team leader and this was my first big test, in the Giro as a team leader."

Hamilton did not disappoint, bearing the pain and being in with a chance to win the Giro right up until the final time trial, where he couldn't beat a very strong Paolo Savoldelli. Although Hamilton is not racing the Giro this year, with a strong team behind him and a year's experience of being a team leader, who knows what he could achieve in the Tour?

Specific preparation

As Hamilton said, Bjarne Riis has changed a number of things in his training over the last year. "He has a lot of new ideas and interesting ideas and I take a lot of them on board," said Hamilton, who added that he did "A lot more power training, a lot more specific work every day, and a lot more motorpacing. In Paris-Nice, my first race, I started out pretty well but I had probably 25 days of motorpacing before that. Whereas last year I probably had three," said Hamilton, who has logged another 15 days behind the motorbike this spring.

Also his racing program has changed a little, and he has not raced as many days yet this year. "This year I raced later," said Hamilton. "My first race wasn't until Paris-Nice, but also instead of starting the Tour of Valencia we had a team training camp in Italy. We did really hard training, it was more or less like a stage race for six days. I was more tired than after some stages. Then I had a little rest then started Paris-Nice which was perfect for me."

Riis full of praise

Riis happy
Photo: © Elmar Krings
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As for the team boss himself, Bjarne Riis was glowing about Tyler Hamilton's performance yesterday, and indeed his overall approach to professional racing. "He's a fantastic guy," said Riis. "Honestly I find it difficult to find riders who are so ambitious as he is. They way he's trained...we made very hard training programs together and he sends me them back every day. And every day he's sending me emails about how he's training. He's so professional it's amazing. He's doing all that work. I'm very happy for him today. He has worked hard for that."

Riis is also unwilling to say that Hamilton can win the Tour de France. "To win the Tour is very difficult, he said. "Our big goal is to go on the podium. With him and Carlos we have two guys who can do top 10, maybe top 5. Who knows, if everything is working well? [We have] realistic goals."

One of the big factors will be Lance Armstrong, who is feared by Riis and everyone else in the Tour. Did the CSC director think that Armstrong looks better this year than last? "I can't see how he can be stronger than the last few years," said Riis. "But he's strong, you saw that today."

With Armstrong, it seems to be all or nothing. "Of course. It's his mentality," was the response from Riis, who won the Tour in 1996.

Team CSC's victory in Liege was its first in a classic since Jakob Piil in Paris-Tours last year. To win a race such as this could play an important role in the team's future. "I can't tell yet [how significant it will be, but it's] very important," said Riis. "This business is always difficult but I believe in what we are doing with the team, and I never doubted what we want to do with this team. We'll keep looking forward and I think that's the most important thing."

Mayo "could have been better"

Mayo and Boogerd
Photo: © Elmar Krings
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Euskaltel-Euskadi's Iban Mayo finished second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 12 seconds behind the winner Tyler Hamilton. The Basque was hoping for more however, as he knew his team needed to ride well to improve its chances of Tour de France selection.

"Probably I could still have done better," he said. "This was my first Doyenne, so it's hard to estimate your own chances. I thought that Boogerd was stronger than me, but I was wrong. I able to close the gap to Hamilton, but wasn't sure enough. I found it better to be on the podium than to be faced with my limitations and finish an anonymous seventh."

Boogerd in line for World Cup

Michael Boogerd
Photo: © AFP
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Michael Boogerd's third place in Liege put him up to second overall on the World Cup standings with 140 points, still 60 points behind leader Peter van Petegem. He couldn't quite close the gap to Hamilton in the end, and had to be content with third place behind Hamilton and Mayo.

When asked about his chances in the World Cup, Boogerd replied: "The World Cup? Yes, gladly. But don't forget that comes just after the Tour. You'll also expect something from me there, won't you? If I get to Alpe d'Huez in the grupetto, then I can hear it: 'Well, Michael, it didn't go well today?'"

Scarponi best Italian

Fourth placed Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze-Elitron) is continuing to show his talent as a rider, finishing just a couple of seconds behind Mayo and Boogerd in Liege. "This is my second year as a professional and I'm riding this race for the first time," he said. "I've only known this race from the TV and from a quick look at the parcours on Friday. That played a part for me. So I was distracted when Armstrong went away and was afraid when it started to rain in the finale. Without that I would have caught Hamilton."

Di Luca not happy with eighth

Saeco's Danilo Di Luca was not happy at all with his performance in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished eighth. "I'm sorry for my team mates, they all rode really well and we rode a great race, but I wasn't able to do anything in the finale," Di Luca said. "I went well sometimes but on the climb of the Redoute I realised I wasn't at my best, it's a pity because even Armstrong showed he's beatable."

As always, Di Luca is looking forward to the next race. "It's a big blow but give me a few days and I'll bounce back with as much determination as ever. A better placing would have helped my chances for the World Cup but it only means I'll have to make up for it in the summer World Cup races."

Lance Armstrong disappointed but satisfied

Lance Armstrong
Photo: © Jeff Tse
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Together with Sanchez, Shefer, Bartoli and Moreni, Lance Armstrong drove the chase behind leader Axel Merckx with 20 km to go to bridge the gap on the Côte du Sart-Tilman. Once they reached him, Armstrong attacked repeatedly to end up with Sanchez and Shefer over the top. However the trio were caught by the next group after a determined chase by CSC.

"I had the legs to win," he was quoted in Het Nieuwsblad. "And then you can't be happy with twentieth place. On the other hand I look at how I went with satisfaction. In the end I rode a strong race and was definitely present. Only the circumstances decided differently, concerning the result."

US Postal-Berry Floor team director Johan Bruyneel added that "He didn't really have the best company. Sanchez and Shefer were hardly working, meanwhile behind him there were two teams chasing. Because of that, Lance never got out of their grasp. And once he was caught, the motivation was gone."

Verbrugghe changes gears

Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo) managed to finish 78th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, over 11 minutes down on the winner. A tired Verbrugghe told Het Laatste Nieuws at the end that, "Just before the top of the Vecquée, I was been dropped together with Aerts and Baguet. I didn't feel well the whole day. Tomorrow I'll have an echography of my Achilles tendon and pelvis. After a few quiet days, I'll build up to the Giro."

"I'm not going for the podium in the Giro, like I said in the beginning of the season. I only want to try and reach my best condition. I won't expend my strength and ride until I'm completely finished, because I still want to ride a good Tour in July: in the Tour I'll go for the classification."

Cyclingnews coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège

57th Tour de Romandie

Starting on April 29 with a 3.2 kilometre prologue in Geneva, this year's edition of the Tour de Romandie will cover 701.7 kilometres in six days, finishing with another individual time trial in Lausanne. The race is classified as Hors Categorie, which is equivalent to the Tour de Suisse and Paris-Nice in terms of UCI points. It's also an important final test for riders who are competing in the Giro d'Italia, which starts in two weeks' time in Lecce.

After his impressive ride to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, Tyler Hamilton goes into the Tour de Romandie as one of the favourites. After the race yesterday, Hamilton said that this race, along with La Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, was one of his major objectives for the spring. With two time trials and a hilly parcours, The TdR will suit the CSC rider down to the ground.

His chief rivals will be last year's winner Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo), who has been in excellent shape all year in the top ranked stage races. Frigo is very good against the clock and also on uphill finishes, and he will be hard to beat.

Another favourite will be Phonak's Alex Zülle, who was runner up last year behind Frigo and took some very good stage wins. Zülle has the home ground advantage, and is motivated to do well after a less than perfect start to the year with a team change from Coast to Phonak. Also competing is Vini Caldirola's Stefano Garzelli, runner up at the Giro del Trentino last Sunday and a big favourite for the Giro d'Italia.

Apart from the two time trials, the biggest challenges for the riders are in stages three and four, which both finish uphill. Stage 3 from Moudon to Loèche-les-Bains ends on a category 1, 1411m climb, and will no doubt be decisive for the final GC.

The stages

Prologue - April 29: Genève ITT, 3.2 km
Stage 1 - April 30: Genève - Fleurier, 181.9 km
Stage 2 - May 1: Cuvet - Lucens, 178.2 km
Stage 3 - May 2: Moudon - Loèche-les-Bains, 171.3 km
Stage 4 - May 3: Monthey - Châtel-St-Denis/Les Paccots, 146.5 km
Stage 5 - May 4: Lausanne ITT, 20.4 km

Win Super Mario's helmet

Cyclingnews is giving readers the opportunity to win a rare model of the Specialized S1 helmet, as used by Mario Cipollini and the Domina Vacanze team. The special edition of the helmet (which was reviewed on Cyclingnews last year) features a rainbow colour scheme, as befits a world champion. Six helmets are up for grabs, with more information to be found about the competition here.

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