Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

92nd Liège-Bastogne-Liège - PT

Belgium, April 23, 2006

La Doyenne: All applicants welcome

By Les Clarke

Alexandre Vinokourov punches the air with delight after taking his first Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2005
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

With surprises galore so far during the Ardennes classics, this year's edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege should provide a few more twists to finish up the Spring Classics for another year. Disappointing performances from several of the favourites in Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne left the door open for riders such as Frank Schleck and Alejandro Valverde to take strong wins ahead of quality fields, and it's a distinct possibility that could happen again this weekend. Both Valverde and Schleck will be riding on Sunday, and surely go into the race as favourites.

But whoever claims victory in the year's final Spring Classic will also have to overcome 10 climbs in the second half of the race and the likes of defending champion Alexandre Vinokourov, Paolo Bettini, Michael Boogerd, Samuel Sanchez and Steffen Wesemann, most of whom put in solid performances during Amstel Gold and La Fleche. Quick.Step's Italian master Bettini took 12th in the former race and 9th in the latter over the week, and should prove a real threat if he gets it together on the day. The same can be said for Steffen Wesemann, who has proven his mettle in the cobbled classics (winning the Tour of Flanders in 2004) and managed a good second in last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race - his strength will be vital to T-Mobile's chances of grabbing a win if it's his day this Sunday.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) is definitely a dark horse for victory in the big loop to and from Liege, and the Spaniard has proven he can climb, with strong performances during the Vuelta a Pais Vasco earlier this month and second in La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. His ability to sustain an attack when the roads get hilly will be vital to his chances as will be the case for Lampre's Damiano Cunego. The young Italian will go into Sunday's race as an outside chance, having just won the Giro Del Trentino on home turf. He's been quiet so far in 2006 after a rather bland 2005, but everyone knows the talent is there and the hunger may just be returning.

CSC's Frank Schleck has enjoyed the spring
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Staying with the theme of outside chances, 2003 world road race champion Igor Astarloa (Barloworld) will be leading Claudio Corti's team on Sunday - the Spaniard says he's feeling good for the race, and after several very quiet seasons he's due for a big result. One of the 'no-shows' after excellent performances in 2005 is Liquigas' Danilo Di Luca, who will line up for the race in Liege on Sunday along with another hopeful, Luca Paolini. Paolini has suffered bad luck during his Spring Classics campaign, the highlight being a third in Milan-San Remo. Since then it's been slim pickings, but Sunday may offer a chance to redeem himself, although it's most likely he'll be working for team leader Di Luca.

Australian Cadel Evans also goes into Sunday's race with the form guide distinctly not on his side - a disappointing 122nd at La Fleche Wallonne, a race he could do well in, won't instil a lot of confidence in his fans. But a fifth place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year could inspire those who know what Davitamon-Lotto's climbing man is capable of. One thing's for certain, however - every rider starting on Sunday will want to finish the spring with a bang, which should make for great racing and possibly another surprising result - all applicants for a win please line up here!

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 92nd Liège-Bastogne-Liège live, beginning at 10:00 local time (CEST)/04:00 EDT (USA East)/01:00 PDT (USA West)/18:00 AEST (Australia East).