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April 26, 2007
Rebellin returns to conquer Ardennes Classic
Davide Rebellin may be in the twilight of his career but he showed why he is considered one of the classiest riders around by winning Wednesday's 71st Flèche Wallonne. The Italian, known as 'Tin-Tin', schooled younger rivals to conquer the Classic for a second time in his career. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews spoke with the reserved rider in Huy.
Rebellin cunningly passed his time in the chase until the break containing Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was pulled back at three kilometres remaining. He was back in the race with a chance at victory as the race arrived at the base of the Mur de Huy. The 35 year-old repeated his 2004 victory when he kicked clear with 200 metres to go.
"It was a day without stress for me," said Rebellin after taking his second career win in Flèche. "I made it the finale and it was possible to go for the win. I risked a lot because the escape of Di Luca and Valverde was dangerous."
Astana's Alexander Vinokourov and Matthias Kessler took over the charge once the race hit the base of the Huy. The aggression pleased Rebellin. "The climbs went well," he continued. "In the finale, Vinokourov did a lot of work, then Kessler, the peloton was all lined out. I think it was a little far out for them but it worked well for me."
Thinking back and forward
In 2004 he first won the Flèche on his way to making history; he had already taken victory in the Amstel Gold three days before and came good in Liège-Bastogne-Liège four days later. The successful Ardennes week was the first time that cycling had ever seen such a Triple. Three years later, the rider from Verona showed his class once more.
"From 2004 I think I have come along well," he said with a light grin. "It was an advantage that there was no rain this year, I liked the weather better this way; sunny.
"That year was magical because it was surrounded by the other two wins. Last year, I had intestinal problems, and the previous year I did not feel so well. I had a little bit of bad luck over those years. But with the years passing I have come to know myself very well."
Tin-Tin figures he could go on racing until he is 37 years-old by specializing in the races that suit his style. "If I keep getting results, I will go on," said Rebellin, whose last win came in October 2006, with the overall of the Giro dell'Emilia. "The desire is there; maybe I will go on through 2009. If I can train well and limit my courses, to these one-day races. So I think I can continue in this manner."
He would love to continue by winning Sunday's Liège. The team has a strong line-up with Amstel winner Stefan Schumacher and 'dark-horse' Fabian Wegmann. "The Liège will suit my characteristics. I will search to win it and I hope it goes well." The previous two-time winners of Liège were Rebellin's compatriots, Paolo Bettini and Michele Bartoli.
The buzz surrounding the race was the side-lining of Ivan Basso by Discovery Channel due to alleged links in Operación Puerto. Rebellin feels for the 2006 Giro winner's struggle but hopes for a sport that revolves around racing and not doping controversies.
"The teams have to act together," noted the Gerolsteiner man. "With Ivan Basso, I hope it ends well. The justice system is doing its work.
"I know he is a great racer who loves the sport. So, I hope it ends well for him. I also hope that cycling goes forward, not just for my country, but for the world. I want to be able to speak of racing and not only doping."
In 2004 Rebellin was at the centre of the Squadra Azzurra shuffle. Although he won Trofeo Melinda and finished second in the Coppa Placci leading up to the Worlds he was refused a slot by Franco Ballerini in the event held near his home town, in Verona.
"The past is the past," he said. "The 2007 Worlds will suit my characteristics but I know that Bettini will be going strong. I hope I will have my chances but it is more important that the team wins."
The Flèche podium presentation was without a ProTour jersey. Rebellin, who was not presented the white ProTour jersey after the race, continues to lead the overall classification. It is interesting to note that since the ProTour classification started in 2005 that the winner of this Ardennes Classic has also gone on to win the final overall. If the trend continues, he will have yet another treasure to add to his chest at the conclusion of the 2007 season.
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Images by Gregor Brown / Cyclingnews