News for April 15, 2000

86th Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Laurent Jalabert reflects on the past
The oldest of Classics will be held on Sunday in the Ardennes in south eastern Belgium. Liege-Bastogne-Liege or Luik-Bastanaken-Luik depending on which side of the fence you sit, was first run in 1892, before any of the other classics took off. During the first two years, it was won by Léon Houa of Belgium, but it had an on again-off again history before becoming an annual event.

This year, it remains the fourth round of the World Cup - 264 kilometres, 10 climbs concluding with the Côte de St Nicolas within 4.5 kilometres of the finish in the suburb of Ans. A bunch sprint is a rarity of course, and the course suits the power climbers rather than the real mountain goats.

No French rider has won since Berard Hinault did in the snow 20 years ago, but ONCE's Laurent Jalabert would like to put things straight this year. He's in form, and there is no Bartoli or Vandenbroucke to deal with, but he will not have it handed to him on a plate.

Francesco Casagrande, Michael Boogerd and Davide Rebellin will be the principal favourites out to stop him, but there can often be surprises at the finish in Ans. Lotto had a decent race last Wednesday in Fleche Wallonne, placing Rik Verbrugghe and Mario Aerts in the top five. It's doubtful whether the leader, Andrei Tchmil will make a dent in Erik Zabel's World Cup lead, but they may end with a good result. You can never write off Tchmil after all.

It's also unlikely that last week's Paris-Roubaix winner, Johan Museeuw will be a force at the finish, although Axel Merckx may find him a valuable ally en route if he is to try and take "La Doyenne". Once again, join us live on as we keep you updated during the entire race, with the help of our new server called Dora. Please be nice to it.

Starters and non starters at Liège

Paolo Savoldelli (Saeco) will not start in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège due to a fever. Rabobank will start with the following eight riders: Michael Boogerd, Markus Zberg, Marc Lotz, Maarten den Bakker, Grischa Niermann, Marc Wauters, Niki Aebersold and Jan Boven.

The Farm Frites team will be: Geert van Bondt, Peter van Petegem, Sergej Ivanov, Michel Lafis, Steven Klyenen, Wim Vansevenant, Miquel van Kessel and Pieter Vries

Mapei have Johan Museeuw, Paolo Bettini, Giuliano Figueras, Axel Merckx, Daniele Nardello, Rinaldo Nocentini, Andrea Tafi, and David Tani with Merckx the likely leader.

Ullrich back in May - and impressed by team mates

Within one month, Jan Ullrich will be back racing. "I have to be in good shape in the late half of May. I want to be in top form and sit up front, not just good enough for riding in the peloton," he told German TV Station Sat 1. He will stick to his programme: Tour de France, Vuelta a España, World Championships and Olympics.

He is also happy that some of the other riders on the team were enjoying great success during his absence. "To win is good for the morale in the team. And the situation now is that riders in good form can win races and show themselves instead of working for me."

Andreas Klöden has impressed him in particular: "That he won Paris-Nice and also as the first German winner in the Tour of the Basque Country surprised me, as they are difficult races to win. But he did ride strongly last fall in the Vuelta and the World Championships," said Ullrich. "Andreas rides like me, he sits down and he has won the stage races in the time trials, and they cannot drop him in the mountains. He will probably ride the Tour, maybe with a pause first so he can prepare. He proved already in the Vuelta that he has the stamina for a three week race."

Jan Ullrich also praised Erik Zabel, the winner of Milan-San Remo who is leading the World Cup. "Erik has shown already in past years that he is a top rider in the spring races, and this year he is even better. And the team is also stronger. Erik is a strong performer the whole seasson and there are some World Cup races left where he can gather World Cup points. If he keeps on like this and takes some points in each race he might keep the leader's jersey ."

Eddy Merckx presented

At last night's UCI Centenary party in Paris, IOC head, Juan Antonio Samaranch presented Belgian legend, Eddy Merckx with a trophy for the best cyclist of the 20th Century. President, Hein Verbruggen spoke about the work of Samaranch for the sport of cycling as well. The union of cycling in the UCI (after 30 years of having three separate unions) is one of the most important things Samaranch was involved in.

Many former elite riders were in Paris yesterday: Baldini, Darrigade, Gaul, Stablinski, Thevenet, Fignon and Mottet.

Linda McCartney woes

British team Linda McCartney Foods are facing a testing time at this weeks Settimana Lombardia in Italy. After illness forced star rider Pascal Richard out, they were down to seven with Max Sciandri, Maurizio De Pasquale, Ciaran Power, Spencer Smith, Tayeb Braikia and Matt Stephens.

In stage two, the conditions were quite hard - torrential rain, freezing conditions and a 20 percent grade (in sections) mountain climb. Max Sciandri was forced to retire due to back pain early on, and things did not improve. Firstly, designated tempo setter, Matt Stephens, suffered a puncture on the main climb. Teammate Spencer Smith gave up his back wheel to Matt, then waited for service from the team car.

Spencer was fighting his way back up the steep slopes, following a marshal's motorbike, when an errant car caused the motorbike to swerve. Left with nowhere to go, Spencer found himself catapulted over the barriers and down the mountainside.

The race ambulance was quickly on the scene and recovered the former World Triathlon Champion from his unintentional mountain biking expedition, and found that he was fine save a few bumps and scratches. But it meant that the McCartney squad had lost another rider.

The aim is now to make it to Sunday's finish with the rest of the team intact.