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Liège-Bastogne-Liège Cycling News, April 27, 2009

Edited by Sue George

Schleck 100% for the Spring Classics, 100% for the Tour de France

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ans, Belgium

He was happy to have won
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Luxembourger Andy Schleck, 23-years-old and the youngest of the Schleck brothers, left a grand impression on everyone who witnessed his performance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday . He blasted away from the opposition on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and rode a 20km solo to win in Ans. He was already regarded as one of the biggest talents in the peloton, and this win only confirmed his abilities.

Compared with a rider like21-year-old Edvald Boasson Hagen, who still is finding his capabilities, Andy Schleck has already proved himself. If anything, he only further raised the expectations for his future with his win in Liège.

After finishing as runner-up at the Giro d'Italia in 2007, and winning the white best young rider's jersey at the Tour de France last year, Schleck claimed victory in one of the toughest one-day races of the season, La Doyenne, the oldest of the Classics as organizer Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) describes the race, one of the five Monuments, in its programme. The fact that the race can be described in so many ways says a lot about its importance.

On Sunday evening, a couple of hours after the race had finished, Andy Schleck walked into the press room in Ans to talk about his win, but not before he apologized for showing up late after delivering the liquid goods at the post-race doping controls proved as much of a challenge as winning the race itself. The press conference had a special atmosphere thanks to a sort of magic, relaxed aura that surrounds Schleck.

The way Andy Schleck walks, talks, and looks around, as if he has nothing to worry about, is not often witnessed in the cycling peloton, and especially not with the stars. Without pointing to anyone in particular, many riders seem as if they would rather not be bothered about the fans and media. On the other hand, the charismatic Schleck seems to care about them in the way of non-cycling figures such as Barack Obama. There is no trouble imagining Schleck like the guy next door stopping by for a coffee. One Belgian journalist called Schleck the Tom Boonen of Luxembourg.

Andy Schleck returns from his bathroom break
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When Schleck was confronted with the many expectations upon him, he didn't play along in the game of the journalists who already had their story in mind. "I'll always remain the youngest of the Schlecks, and I'll stay with my feet on the ground," he said.

"Maybe I pulled off a nice numéro, but without the team, I wouldn't have been able to do it. I was very happy to have my brother at the start, after such a hectic week," said Schleck of his brother Fränk, who crashed hard one week earlier in the Amstel Gold Race and seemed briefly to be dealing with a life threatening situation.

"Mentally I wasn't 100% after that, but then I finished second in the Flèche Wallonne and now there's this win; solo on the Côte d'Ans," said Andy Schleck. "It doesn't get much better than this. I knew I was good, and I wanted to attack on that specific climb, but it was a risk to play my cards that early."

At this point in the press conference, Schleck stood up and said he had to go to the bathroom. Apparently all those liquids at doping control finally kicked in. "I'll be back in a minute, don't worry," he said confidently.

Young, capable riders often turn their focus from the Spring Classics to the Grand Tours, but Schleck said he isn't planning to make this switch. "In the future, I'll keep combining the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours (in my programme). For instance, next year I might have a go at the Tour of Flanders. It's all a matter of mentality, whether you can focus on these races. (Alberto) Contador would be able to win here as well, just like Lance Armstrong was able to battle for the win at the Amstel Gold Race."

Schleck answered all the questions
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The young man from Luxembourg joins other riders who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the tender age of 23 or 24 including Silvano Contini, Steven Rooks, Evgeni Berzin, Frank Vandenbroucke. None of these names managed to make the transition into the category of the biggest riders of their era although others, like Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly and more recently Lance Armstrong, did.

Schleck realizes he needs to take a few more steps before he can join the Merckx list and said humbly, "For now, I haven't won much and I also haven't won the Tour de France. I've only won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Before this, I've only won stages in the Sachsen Tour which is another level. During last year's Tour, I was capable of winning stages in the Alps, but didn't go for it in order to take care of the team; one day that'll pay off for me."

"This day marks the start of a new build-up. This was day one of the preparation for the Tour de France. I wanted to be 100% during this week and now I want to be 100% at the Tour de France. So tomorrow I'll be doing some serious testing to work on my time trial positioning."

As if he wanted to scare his rivals Schleck pointed out that he hasn't reached his limit yet. "I'm only 23 years old now, and I believe I can still improve. Before the age of 26 you're just working on your basic skills."

"Finishing alone on top of the Côte d'Ans was a dream, and it became reality. In the same way, I'm dreaming of winning the Tour de France, and hopefully it'll happen as well. For now, I've got a lot of work to do in order to win the Tour de France, but it's not wrong to dream, is it?"


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Images by Bjorn Haake / Cyclingnews

Second place like a victory for Rodríguez

Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne)
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The Catalan rider of the team Caisse d'Epargne, Joaquím Rodríguez, was happy with his second place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

"I had a very good day in this race which suits me well," said Rodríguez after the race. "Today I believe there was nothing we could do to defeat Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), who was really the strongest rider, and we have to congratulate him for what he achieved here."

"As for me, this second place looks like a victory. It is very important for me because I have been trying for several years. To climb on the podium is a reward for all the work I did on these roads the previous years and also the confirmation that I am able to win here someday.

"Now I will try to take advantage of my excellent form in the Giro d'Italia, which is another race I really like and motivates me a lot," he said of his upcoming race plans.

Evans acknowledges Saxo Bank's strength

By Bjorn Haake in Ans, Belgium

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)
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Cadel Evans rode strongly in the Flèche Wallonne, but had to settle for 16th place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Evans acknowledged that the Saxo Bank team was very strong on Sunday.

But he also thought that Andy Schleck was given too much leeway. "If I would have known Andy would go so strongly and ride all the way to the finish with nobody in the group chasing..." Evans said. "But I have never seen such a big group at the Faucon, and I didn't think a lone rider could stay away from 50 guys."

In the end, Evans gave his compliments to the Luxembourger. "He was incredibly good. The last time check I had was 30 seconds." Evans didn't hear any other gaps and was quite surprised at the finish when the gap had grown to almost a minute and a half.

This came as a result of both Schleck's strong ride and the chasers not agreeing on what to do. "He was riding pretty fast and [there was] a bit of negativity in the group."

Philippe Gilbert attacked and was later caught by Andy Schleck. The Belgian Gilbert was the one who could have prevented a solo win by Schleck. "If Philippe gets dropped, then you see how tough it is," said Evans.

Not that there was a lack of attempting behind to try and bridge up. "José Serpa made the biggest dent in the time gap, but even he was brought back."

Saxo Bank had five riders in the group behind. "Anything you tried, someone was right there. Alexandr Kolobnev was the strongest, there is not much you can do. They followed every move, it's good on them."

Julich happy outside the trenches

By Bjorn Haake in Ans, Belgium

Bobby Julich
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Bobby Julich has retired as a professional bike racer but currently acts as an advisor for the Saxo Bank team of Bjarne Riis, the team with which he ended his career. Julich was excited to see Andy Schleck win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Julich followed the race on the TV in the team bus today. "It is too stressful to be in the car," he said to Cyclingnews. "It was crazy exciting. It gives me a totally different feeling seeing Fränk (Schleck) win or Fabian (Cancellara) win and, of course, Andy today. I like helping these guys. I love this sport!

"Watching it on TV was a new experience instead of being out there with them in the trenches."

Andy Schleck had won a couple of team time trials and time trials and stages in the Tour of Saxony before. "But this is a big step up for Andy, this is his first [major] win as a professional, not a bad win to start with," Julich said. "It'll be interesting to see how far he can go."

Julich was impressed with the decisive attack on the côte de la Roche aux Faucons. "The speed that Andy attacked with up the climb when he went after Gilbert was unbelievable. It was man against boys at that time."

Julich himself could appreciate the climbs that look much tamer on television. "I never made it over La Redoute in the front and I was never in the finale of it, although it was one of my favourite races."

He didn't know the Faucon climb. "I didn't do Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year, and that was the first year they put it in. That's where Andy attacked last year and set up Fränk for a good result. He had it in his mind for a year that's where he was going to attack."

Julich had never seen such a performance, with a single rider gaining 1:20 in the last 20 kilometres. For awhile, Julich was nervous about the outcome, but then he relaxed. "I knew the magic number would be 50. When he had 50 seconds with 12 kilometres to go, I knew he had it."

Dupont holds on until the end

By Bjorn Haake in Ans, Belgium

Hubert Dupont (AG2R La Mondiale) made a last-ditch effort to join the day's break in the 95th Liège-Bastogne-Liège. When the four-man move was caught, Dupont held on for a little while longer.

"It was tough, and the others wanted me to close gaps and all that, while I was just happy to hold the wheels," Dupont told Cyclingnews.

Even getting into the break wasn't straightforward. Cyril Gautier (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Marcel Wyss (Cervélo TestTeam) and Nico Sijmens (Cofidis) were already gone. "I went solo after them. The peloton was slowing down to let the gap grow, so the three waited for me, and I was able to pass a nice day on the front," said the Frenchman.

This made up for some of the races where things didn't work out this season. "I really needed to be at the front of a grand course, and today gives me a lot of morale for the future," he said.

Unlike last year, Dupont hasn't made many breaks yet in 2009. "Today I had the luck to make it." Even better it was in La Doyenne. "For me this is the most beautiful race that exists." In the end he felt the efforts, though. "To me the hardest Côte was the next-to-last one [Côte de la Roche aux Faucons ]. You are already tired when you get there, and it is quite steep."

He briefly saw the winner on that climb. "Andy Schleck did a great race. When he passed us on the Roche aux Faucons, the peloton was quite a bit behind."

No podium for Sánchez

By Bjorn Haake in Ans, Belgium

Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made the top 10 in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but missed the podium.

"In the final with (Davide) Rebellin, (Damiano) Cunego and the others, we didn't work together well to go after Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacked," he said to Cyclingnews after the race. "There were five of us still capable of getting onto the podium. It didn't work out but bueno, that's cycling."

The tense finale made Sánchez change his mind about the hardest climb in the race. "Today it was the Saint Nicolas for me, with the five of us battling it out." It's the final climb, with about five kilometres left to race. Rodríguez was able to sneak away, but the others, including Sánchez, were caught by a large chase group.

Sánchez was quite impressed with the Saxo Bank team. "They were strong and Andy Schleck was impressive. He deserved to win."

Despite not making the podium, Sánchez was in good spirits. "My form is good. I will do the Vuelta a Asturias and the Volta a Catalunya now, but my main goal is the Vuelta a España later in the year."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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