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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

94th Liège-Bastogne-Liège - 1.HC

Belgium, April 27, 2008

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Valverde hammers 'em hard for second Liège victory

Rebellin and Schleck succumb to Spaniard's comeback

By Gregor Brown and Brecht Decaluwé in Ans, with additional reporting from Hedwig Kröner

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) takes the last Spring Classic
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

One year ago in Ans, Alejandro Valverde found himself just short of his second victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but this year the Caisse d'Epargne rider hit back with Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Fränk Schleck (Team CSC) left wondering what could have been. The 28 year-old, winner of the 2006 Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, added a third Ardennes Classic to his already rich palmarès by waiting until the final 200 metres to swing by his two escape companions.

"This win makes me happier than my victory two years ago," stated Valverde after winning the 261-kilometre race.

"I thought of trying in the last kilometre, but Valverde could have won that way too," noted Rebellin, who was also going for Liège-Bastogne-Liège win number two after a clean sweep of the Ardennes Classics in 2004. The 36 year-old risked everything on the final finishing straight of Rue Jean-Jaurès, but had no answer to the speed of Valverde.

The Italian led through the entire final kilometre with Schleck glued to his wheel and Valverde to his right, an action he did not regret. "I decided to save it all for the sprint," he said. "Maybe I could have used a little bit by pulling, but I think he would have won all the same."

Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Schleck, third last year, did not have the legs to attack from far out as he did to win the 2006 Amstel Gold, and knew his chances were limited following the Côte de Saint-Nicolas at 5.5 kilometres remaining. "I saw that I could not drop them on the Saint-Nicolas," said the exhausted 28 year-old. "So, I decided not to attack into Ans and just wait for the sprint. The problem is that Valverde and Rebellin were just too strong – it was a complicated situation.

"Two podiums in one week, I walk away satisfied," he added, referring to his second place at Amstel Gold one week ago. The only slight blemish was perhaps the pushy behaviour from a local police officer at the finish, causing Schleck to react with a swing of his hand.

Fränk Schleck (Team CSC) was super strong
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Schleck's younger brother and CSC team-mate, Andy, attacked out the lead group of four at 10 kilometres remaining in a perfect play of race strategy. His move lasted five kilometres until the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, where he was caught and passed by the winning three. The 22 year-old held on to finish 30 seconds back and 10 seconds up on the main chase group, led home by Austrian Champion Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld).

This year, race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) took out the usual penultimate climb of the Côte du Sart-Tilman for the stiffer Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Valverde affirmed that the Roche aux Faucons enriched the race and made the finale more selective. "The new climb made the difference," he said.

It was between the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and the last climb, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, that the chasing group of four – Pfannberger, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Valverde's team-mate Joaquím Rodríguez – were pulled back. The four had been keeping some 10 to 15 seconds on the main peloton, but eventually cracked under the pressure.

Italy's Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Cunego confirmed the hard conditions, in one of the first Classics run in hot weather this year. "I would say that with this change [of the new climb], Liège has become even harder," said the Lampre rider, who eventually let off the gas to finish 30th. "It was a difficult day, above all because of the temperatures. I went hard pretty much all day, but then on the last climb, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, I had cramps. At that point I thought, 'ah, maybe it is better to let this one go today'."

How it unfolded

The many colours of the 2008 Liège-Bastogne-Liège peloton
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

261 kilometres was the distance for the last hooray of the Spring Classics this season, and the 200 riders started on time at 10:14 under clear skies. Right within the very first kilometres, a breakaway of Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) and David Kopp (Collstrop) made a gap of 40 seconds, but the two were reeled in by kilometre five.

Soon after, Jonathan Hivert (Crédit Agricole) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) countered a move from Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) and Julien Loubet (AG2R La Mondiale), who attacked at kilometre nine. But the peloton was very attentive and ended the attempt of those five riders before it even started as well.

The break of the day started after 24 clicks: Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) and Tom Stubbe (Française des Jeux) jumped, immediately followed by earlier attackers Brutt and Kopp. Crédit Agricole rider Pierre Rolland also joined the group, and the five of them collaborated well.

Another earlier attacker, Augé, as well as Maxime Bouet (Agritubel) and Johan Coenen (Topsport Vlaanderen) tried to bridge up to the break, but failed, as the lead quintet's advantage over the bunch was already over one minute after kilometre 34.

Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

By kilometre 45, the gap of Fothen, Stubbe, Rolland, Brutt and Kopp had increased to 3'40 minutes. They covered 42.5km in the first hour of racing. As they headed for the Côte de Ny, the first difficulty of the day, the bunch really took a time-out and let the leaders build up a maximum advantage of 11'30 minutes before slowly starting a chase.

Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

By kilometre 96, the leader's advantage was 'down' to 8'30 minutes, as the race quietly evolved with an average speed of 37.5 km/h. Still, after 130 kilometres and the Côte de Saint-Roch, Stubbe couldn't follow the pace of his break companions anymore and got dropped.

As the leaders made it over the top of the next climb, the Côte de Wanne (89 km to go), the gap was down to 4'30 minutes. The race got even harder as they tackled the Côte de la Haute-Levée – Kopp couldn't hold on and lost contact to the front men, chasing them at about 100 metres distance. The German managed to come back, as the gap to the bunch came down to 3'20 minutes with 78 kilometres to go.

But Kopp didn't last. Approaching the Côte du Rosier, he got dropped, and counter-attacks out of the bunch began: Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) were the ones to eventually push through, getting a good gap. But with 65 kilometres to go, the Finnish rider had to give in to the leg-breaking pace of the Belgian, who eventually passed Kopp at full speed.

Gilbert impressively put some time between himself and the bunch, while the front trio continued to dig in, too, getting some needed energy at the feed zone with 57 kilometres to go.

Carlström continued his efforts between Gilbert and the peloton until he, too, got swallowed by the bunch with 53 kilometres to go. At that moment, the main field was over three minutes adrift of the race leaders, with Gilbert just over a minute away from the front trio, unable to join them.

The next move came from Alexandr Kolobnev (CSC) with 50 kilometres to go. The Russian jumped out of the bunch in pursuit of Gilbert, but as the race really got going behind, he got reeled in in Sougné-Remouchamps. The leaders' advantage melted to 1'30 minutes as the race approached the Côte de la Redoute, with Gilbert barely 30 seconds in front of the bunch.

On the climb, the front trio disintegrated after a long day in the saddle. As the suffering Gilbert was caught, the favourites tested their legs against each other, but it was Andy Schleck (CSC) who finally got away. He was soon followed by Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), and the two caught up with Fothen on their way to the Côte de Sprimont.

The podium in Liège:
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Frenchman Rolland continued to lead, but was the last of the early breakaway riders to be passed by Schleck, Schumacher and Fothen at the foot of the Côte de Sprimont (30 kilometres to go). Meanwhile, Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) also started a pursuit out of the peloton.

As the bunch hit the climb, World champion Paolo Bettini launched an impressive attack, passing Efimkin and Pellizotti like a bullet. But then he sat up, waiting for the bunch to catch the two-men break of Andy Schleck and Stefan Schumacher, as Fothen also ran out of gas.

Before the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, the new climb introduced by the organisers this year, the bunch was just over 20 seconds adrift of the leading duo. But Schumacher had problems in the climb, and let go of the younger Schleck's wheel, while Caisse d'Epargne's Joaquim Rodriguez was next to attack. He was joined by his team-mate Alejandro Valverde as well as Fränk Schleck (CSC) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner).

With 18 kilometres to go, the race situation thus had Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck (CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) in front, with the bunch close behind.

Some of the other favourites realised they missed an important move, and set out in pursuit: Cadel Evans (Silence), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld) counted 13 seconds to the leaders with 16 kilometres to go, with the bunch chasing at 25 seconds.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez could not help his team leader Valverde anymore and dropped back into the Evans group, which continued to lose time on the men in front. Under the 10-kilometre mark, they were 43 seconds behind.

In front, CSC revealed their team tactics and sent the younger Schleck up the road. Valverde and Rebellin had to chase, while Fränk Schleck slipstreamed.

In the final climb, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, Rebellin led the trio back to A. Schleck, and he went out the back. With three kilometres to go, F. Schleck, Rebellin and Valverde led A. Schleck by 25 seconds, with the Evans group 1'15 minutes adrift.

The tarmac chess on the uphill finish began with Schleck holding Valverde's wheel and Rebellin on the Spaniard's left, all three observing each other. Finally, with 250 metres to go, the Spaniard went for it and easily beat Rebellin and Schleck for second and third.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by AFP Photo

Images by Elmar Krings


1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                 6.44.04 (38.756 km/h)
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                                        
3 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                              
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                           0.30
5 Christian Pfannberger (Aut) Barloworld                                0.40
6 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                              
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto                                         
8 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                              0.48
9 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step                                        1.03
10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas                                           
11 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                                        
12 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team High Road                                         
13 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank                                             
14 Benoît Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des Jeux                               
15 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval - Scott                             
16 Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Silence - Lotto                                      
17 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC                                             
18 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale                                 
19 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                       
20 Riccardo Riccò (Ita) Saunier Duval - Scott                               
21 Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez (Col) Barloworld                           
22 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                        
23 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Tinkoff Credit Systems                           1.13
24 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC                                  1.29
25 Nicki Sørensen (Den) Team CSC                                        1.32
26 Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Gerolsteiner                                          
27 Alberto Fernandez De La Puebla Ramos (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott         
28 Evgeny Petrov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit Systems                               
29 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas                                         
30 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre                                          1.39
31 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale                              2.58
32 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale                                       
33 Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro) Liquigas                                       
34 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                 3.10
35 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                  3.28
36 Yoann Le Boulanger (Fra) Française des Jeux                          4.02
37 Matej Mugerli (Slo) Liquigas                                             
38 Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram                                    4.04
39 Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Cycle Collstrop                                 4.05
40 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                   
41 Christophe Brandt (Bel) Silence - Lotto                              4.07
42 Juan José Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                      4.09
43 Andrea Tonti (Ita) Quick Step                                            
44 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team CSC                                         
45 Moises Duenas Nevado (Spa) Barloworld                                    
46 Sven Renders (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                                   
47 Ruben Lobato Elvira (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott                          
48 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                   
49 David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott                   
50 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Team CSC                                      
51 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30                
52 Andrea Moletta (Ita) Gerolsteiner                                        
53 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Liquigas                                             
54 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Crédit Agricole                                      
55 Amaël Moinard (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                    
56 Adam Hansen (Aus) Team High Road                                     4.13
57 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank                                          4.18
58 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre                                         6.30
59 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott               6.34
60 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 6.42
61 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone               7.10
62 Jorge Azanza Soto (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                          8.11
63 José Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                            
64 Mauro Facci (Ita) Quick Step                                             
65 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                                  
66 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                                 
67 Freddy Bichot (Fra) Agritubel                                            
68 Christophe Rinero (Fra) Agritubel                                        
69 Aitor Galdos Alonso (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                            
70 Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Cycle Collstrop                                     
71 Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                      
72 Julien Loubet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale                                     
73 John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld                                       
74 Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Crédit Agricole                                       
75 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step                                       
76 Pavel Brutt (Rus) Tinkoff Credit Systems                                 
77 Steffen Wesemann (Swi) Cycle Collstrop                                   
78 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel                                        
79 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Col) Rabobank                              
80 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - Lotto                              
81 Mario Aerts (Bel) Silence - Lotto                                        
82 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Française des Jeux                                 
83 Maxime Méderel (Fra) Crédit Agricole                                     
84 Christopher Froome (Ken) Barloworld                                      
85 Iñaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                             
86 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                             
87 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre                                                
88 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                  
89 Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step                               
90 David Millar (GBr) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30                  
91 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale                                    
92 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux                                
93 Johann Tschopp (Swi) Bouygues Telecom                                    
94 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                             
95 Erik Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team CSC                                       
96 Steven Cummings (GBr) Barloworld                                         
97 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Crédit Agricole                                 8.17
98 Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                          11.15
99 Jesús Del Nero (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott                               
100 Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram                                          
101 Matej Jurco (Svk) Team Milram                                           
102 Kenny Van Der Schueren (Bel) Cycle Collstrop                            
103 Giampaolo Cheula (Ita) Barloworld                                       
104 Andy Cappelle (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                 12.00
105 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre                                          
106 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Silence - Lotto                                     
107 Josep Jufre Pou (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott                             
108 Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                            
109 Ronny Scholz (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                         
110 Andry Grivko (Ukr) Team Milram                                          
111 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Crédit Agricole                                     
112 Jonathan Patrick Mc Carty (USA) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30    
113 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre                                         12.33
114 Johan Coenen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                             14.03
115 Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale                                    
116 Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux                                14.24
117 Huub Duyn (Ned) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30                    
118 Daniel Martin (Irl) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30           17.11
119 Mickaël Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone             19.31
120 Perrig Quemeneur (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                 
121 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                  
122 Thierry Hupond (Fra) Skil-Shimano                                       
123 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Skil-Shimano                                       
124 Florent Brard (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                   
125 Michael Barry (Can) Team High Road                                      
126 Kjell Carlström (Fin) Liquigas                                          
127 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas                                           
128 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team High Road                               
129 Yann Huguet (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                     
130 David Kopp (Ger) Cycle Collstrop                                        
131 Maarten Neyens (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                                
132 Marco Marcato (Ita) Cycle Collstrop                                     
133 Tom Criel (Bel) Cycle Collstrop                                         
DNF Albert Timmer (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                        
DNF Piet Rooijakkers (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                     
DNF Yukihiro Doi (Jpn) Skil-Shimano                                         
DNF Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                   
DNF Ji Cheng (Chn) Skil-Shimano                                             
DNF Sebastian Schwager (Ger) Team Milram                                    
DNF Dominik Roels (Ger) Team Milram                                         
DNF Artur Gajek (Ger) Team Milram                                           
DNF Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Spa) Team Milram                               
DNF Kilian Patour (Fra) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30                
DNF Christophe Laurent (Fra) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30           
DNF Jason Donald (USA) Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30                 
DNF Michal Golas (Pol) Cycle Collstrop                                      
DNF Nico Sijmens (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                       
DNF Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                         
DNF Steven Kleynen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                     
DNF Benjamin Gourgue (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                   
DNF Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner                 
DNF Alexander Serov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit Systems                            
DNF Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Tinkoff Credit Systems                           
DNF Alexander Gottfried (Ger) Tinkoff Credit Systems                        
DNF Nikita Eskov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit Systems                               
DNF Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus) Tinkoff Credit Systems                           
DNF Hugo Sabido (Por) Barloworld                                            
DNF Stéphane Augé (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone                   
DNF Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence - Lotto                                 
DNF Dario David Cioni (Ita) Silence - Lotto                                 
DNF Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                            
DNF Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                            
DNF Koen Barbé (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                                    
DNF Christophe Le Mével (Fra) Crédit Agricole                               
DNF Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Crédit Agricole                                   
DNF Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crédit Agricole                                 
DNF Tom Stubbe (Bel) Française des Jeux                                     
DNF Guillaume Levarlet (Fra) Française des Jeux                             
DNF Mickaël Chérel (Fra) Française des Jeux                                 
DNF René Mandri (Est) AG2R La Mondiale                                      
DNF José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La Mondiale                       
DNF Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Agritubel                                         
DNF Benoît Salmon (Fra) Agritubel                                           
DNF Kevin Ista (Bel) Agritubel                                              
DNF Steven Caethoven (Bel) Agritubel                                        
DNF Maxime Bouet (Fra) Agritubel                                            
DNF Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                      
DNF Francisco Javier Aramendia (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                    
DNF Iouri Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues Telecom                                   
DNF Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                  
DNF Laurent Lefèvre (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                  
DNF Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Bouygues Telecom                           
DNF Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Team High Road                                
DNF Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Team High Road                                    
DNF Scott Davis (Aus) Team High Road                                        
DNF Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team High Road                                      
DNF Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Lampre                                         
DNF Marco Marzano (Ita) Lampre                                              
DNF Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre                                              
DNF Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank                                          
DNF Theo Eltink (Ned) Rabobank                                              
DNF Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                  
DNF Markus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                        
DNF Maarten Wynants (Bel) Quick Step                                        
DNF Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step                                    
DNF Leonardo Scarselli (Ita) Quick Step                                     
DNF Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                          
DNF David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                              
DNF Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                            
DNF Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Liquigas