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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, April 28, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams

Valverde keeps winning while real objectives are still to come

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ans

Valverde with the coveted winner's trophy.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

After celebrating his 28th birthday last Friday, Alejandro Valverde gave himself the perfect present by claiming his second victory in 'La Doyenne', as the final event of the Spring Classics is often referred to. The Spaniard from Murcia beat Davide Rebellin and Fränk Schleck in a three-man sprint, but unlike his 2006 victory, Valverde said he didn't feel like the strongest rider today.

"Fränk Schleck was the strongest man in the race this time," said the Caisse d'Epargne rider. "He has got phenomenal form right now which he showed already in the Amstel Gold Race. Today, he was unlucky that Rebellin and I were faster than he."

Valverde's devastating sprint once again proved to be the decisive weapon in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, just like two years ago. "Surely, my experience helped me today," he said. "I won here in 2006 and came second last year. Knowing the roads helped me to save my energy for the moments that really mattered during the finale."

Valverde explained that one of those key moments was the new climb: the Côte de le Roche aux Faucons. "That climb made the difference today. During the first part you only had to stay near the front as it wasn't possible to create a gap there. On the second, steeper part I arrived with all my forces and I felt really good, so I could make the difference."

On that penultimate climb, the eventual winner reacted to attacks from Davide Rebellin, Fränk Schleck and his team-mate Joaquin Rodriguez. "I focused my race on Cadel Evans and Damiano Cunego but when I noticed they were unable to follow the attack on the new climb I jumped away myself. I was surprised but since it had been a long and tough race in the sun they might have been a bit dehydrated."

Valverde ended up riding up front with Rodriguez, Rebellin and the Schleck brothers. And when Rodriguez got dropped on a non-classified climb towards the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the Spaniard wasn't in the best position to claim the win. "Surely I feared them at first as it was the two of them against Davide Rebellin and me," he explained. "When Andy attacked, Rebellin and I agreed to work together to get him back.

To read the complete winner's story, click here.

Gerolsteiner come close again but still no champagne

By Gregor Brown & Brecht Decaluwé in Ans

Davide Rebellin was again a contender.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Gerolsteiner was unable to claim the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège although the team has had a couple of cards to play during the last of the three Ardennes Classics. Markus Fothen was in the early breakaway for a long time, Stefan Schumacher launched a good attack with Andy Schleck on the Côte de la Redoute and 2004 winner Davide Rebellin battled hard to the line with the day's winner, Alejandro Valverde.

"I didn't have a good day," Schumacher told Cyclingnews. The German was unable to hang with the younger of the Schleck brothers during their escape. "Because of my crash in the Flèche Wallonne I couldn't breathe normally and I had cramps during the finale," he explained.

"I have a hematoma above my knee as I had some handlebars [banged] against my legs in the crash. I knew that I wasn't good enough to win today so I tried to anticipate. Too bad I couldn't stay there any longer to get the team in the best position, but I couldn't do anything more than I already did," a disappointed Schumacher concluded.

The last card the German team had to play was veteran Davide Rebellin. The 36 year-old Italian was able to respond to the attack from Fränk Schleck on the new climb of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, but didn't have a chance in the sprint against the speed of Alejandro Valverde.

"I thought of trying in the last kilometre, but Valverde could have won that way too," stated Rebellin, who enjoyed a clean sweep of the Ardennes Week in 2004. "I decided to save it all for the sprint. Valverde was left to go in that attack, maybe I could have used a little bit by pulling but I think he would have won all the same."

In fact, Rebellin was surprised Schleck did not attack before the sprint on Rue Jean-Jaurès. "We were there... I thought that Schleck was going to go, but he did not have anything left. It became a very hard race, but I am content nonetheless."

Rebellin is racing for one more year and thinks he still has a chance of claiming his second win in 'La Doyenne'. "This is my race," he said. "I had hoped to win again, but never say never, there will be another one."

(For more on Rebellin read Ready for Ardennes and beyond.)

Belgians fire early but invisible in the end

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ans

Philippe Gilbert
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

The Belgian riders didn't have their best day out at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Tom Stubbe from the French team Française des Jeux featured in the early breakaway but was dropped just before the TV-coverage began. Later in the race his team-mate Philippe Gilbert launched a solo attack on the Côte du Rosier with 65 kilometres to go, but he was reeled in on the Côte de la Redoute.

From then on it was game over for the Belgians and eventually Bert De Waele from the Landbouwkrediet team finished as first Belgian in 19th spot. That is a great accomplishment for De Waele, as he ended in the group that sprinted for eighth place, one minute behind the winner.

Before the start, early breakaway rider Tom Stubbe talked with Cyclingnews and said that he hadn't had great experiences with Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the past. "I've started here on two occasions but I never got further than the second feed zone," Stubbe said. "The Stockeu is such a tough climb and that's where the race has ended for me every time."

Asked about the team's tactics, Stubbe explained that Philippe Gilbert was not intended to be its leader. "He's feeling tired but of course he's got a free role. Our leader is [Benoît] Vaugrenard," said the blonde Belgian. "I've become a bit stronger so let's hope that I can keep up a bit longer this year."

Stubbe did last longer than his previous attempts but had to abandon the race nevertheless.

Austrian champion displays Barloworld colours with style

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ans

Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld)
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

The Barloworld team was one of the dark horses for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with the team's strongest man being Christian Pfannberger who also did well at the Amstel Gold Race. The Austrian featured in the group with Cadel Evans and Damiano Cunego, which was eventually caught on the final climb towards the finish, but still managed to place fifth.

Cyclingnews talked with the Austrian champion about his fantastic result, which the rider himself wasn't all that surprised about. "Last year I had very good results in Italy and the year before that in Portugal and Austria," said Pfannberger, who rode for the Elk-Haus Continental team last year. "But everybody knows about this race and everybody looks at these results. This is the top of cycling.

"I'm in good form now and maybe a little bit better than last year," he added. "The difference with last year isn't that big as you need to be strong to finish second in a race like the Coppa Agostoni. Last year I finished on the podium in several hard races but they don't have the exposure of the Ardennes Classics.

"Liège-Bastogne-Liège suits me very well as it is a hard race. It's my first participation here but I had done the last 100 kilometres on the bike so I knew that I would be well prepared for it."

One of the men who had to stay with Pfannberger as long as possible was British rider Stephen Cummings. "I had to make sure the right breakaway got away as well," said Cummings. "Pfannberger is really good and we also had Soler as an outsider but he's come over directly from the Giro del Trentino."

Cummings wasn't really prepared for a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège at this point in the season, having focused his attention on the track until now. "I had never raced Liège so I knew it was going to be lovely," Cummings laughed. "Did you take a look at the profile of the race? Did you see where the flat parts are?" he joked.

"Now I'm trying to get ready for the Giro d'Italia," the likable Brit said. Despite his doubts, Cummings managed to finish his first Liège-Bastogne-Liège, crossing the finish line in 96th position over eight minutes behind the winner.

Rodríguez satisfied given weakened Caisse d'Epargne squad

By Gregor Brown in Ans

After losing two of its key support riders on Wednesday at Flèche Wallone, Caisse d'Epargne were up against it before the race had even started. Luckily for the team and Alejandro Valverde, super domestique Joaquím Rodríguez was able to support his captain until 16 kilometres from the finish.

But did the race go according to the team's original plan? "Yes, luckily so," responded Spanish champion Rodríguez to Cyclingnews. "We only left with six riders due to David López and [Alberto] Losada crashing in Flèche Wallonne. So, it was difficult to control the situation with only six riders."

The Spanish duo stared the race, but both were forced to abandon early on. However, Rodríguez was Valverde's key lieutenant when the race heated up, and the 28 year-old sprung into action when Team CSC's Andy Schleck started to stretch his legs.

"There was Andy on that last climb [the penultimate climb Côte de la Roche aux Faucons - ed.] and I had to close the gap because Alejandro was going very well," Rodríguez explained. "I went long. There was Alejandro, Fränk and Rebellin, and after the last 500 metres of the climb, I was dropped. However, I did my work well. I would have liked to have had a race for me, but he [Valverde] is so strong."

Still, Rodríguez's efforts were appreciated by his friend and team captain as the two immediately searched out one another after the finish to embrace. "I did everything that Alejandro asked of me," said Rodríguez. "And at the end, I could not have continued with him."

Wegmann ready for the next step

By Brecht Decaluwé in Liège

After coming close to victory in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann is hoping that his form is on the rise. Wegmann finished 22nd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège but was really targeting a place on the podium. Now the German is heading to Frankfurt for the Rund um den Henninger-Turm on Thursday, before taking a break to build up for further season objectives.

"Henninger-Turm is an important race for us as we are a German team," said Wegmann. "The next races are the Bayern Rundfahrt and the Dauphiné Libéré. My main goals are the Tour de France and especially the Olympics. Then there's a little break again and the Worlds.

"I want to win a big race and I think it's possible," he said. "I was third in the Giro di Lombardia two years ago so I did a podium place in a big race. Now, I want to take the next step forward. If you're on the podium then you can win. I also came really close in the Flèche Wallonne."

Petacchi's Giro in doubt

Alessandro Petacchi
Photo ©: Jacob Sabine
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Petacchi's participation in the Giro d'Italia looks to be in serious jeopardy as the 34 year-old Milram sprinter is now suffering from severe tracheobronchitis with bronchial spasms. Milram announced last week that its star sprinter was having to take his third health-related break since Milano-Sanremo because of the flu and now the Italian's condition has worsened.

In a statement released Sunday morning, Petacchi said: "Since Sunday I have a severe pain when I breathe. Sometimes I cough so hard that it feels like my chest is breaking in two. I have already lost three kilos and haven't been able to train for five days. I hope to improve in a hurry, because the Giro d'Italia is very near and another week without riding would be fatal for my preparations."

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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