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88th Liège-Bastogne-Liège / Luik-Bastenaken-Luik - (CDM)

Belgium, April 21, 2002

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Complete Live Report

Start time: 10.00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16.30 CEST

09:20 CEST    
Welcome to the Cyclingnews coverage of La Doyenne, the oldest classic (if you ignore the claims of Milano-Torino, anyway). The riders will be leaving Place St.-Lambert in the centre of Liège at 09.45 for a neutralised start on the outskirts of the cité ardente (the burning city, so named for the fires of its steelworks in the heyday of the industry) at 10.00.

The riders head south into the wooded hills of the Ardennes, taking a fairly direct and not too hilly route on the shorter outbound leg - only one of the "official" climbs comes before Bastogne, at Houffalize, also well known as a mountain biking venue. The return is a different matter; the course cuts further east towards Vielsalm, Trois-Ponts and the Amblève valley, with a succession of tough climbs, and then the run back northwards to Liège with the last two listed climbs (Côte de Sart-Tilman and Côte de St.-Nicolas) in the conurbation itself, followed by the long drag up to the finish line in the otherwise nondescript suburb of Ans.

10:23 CEST    
A good crowd was out in Liège for the signing on and to see the riders roll out, lined up about four deep for the first kilometre of the route, albeit without the quasi-religious fervour of the start of the Ronde. The weather is fine and sunny, with hardly any wind.

Cyclingnews.com's Jeff Jones was at the start in Liege, where he took some photo's of the action in Place Saint Lambert. Click here to view them.

Before the start we spoke to Axel Merckx, one of the favourites for the day after playing a leading role in last Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne. "I'm feeling OK; the weather is fine and the motivation is good. The Flèche was good for me. I made the right moves. I played my game. I knew that on the last climb with those riders I was going to have a hard time winning, so I had to try something before, which I did and it didn't work out. Obviously Wednesday gives me confidence and motivation. It tells me that I'm in good shape, but I still have to prove it today - it's a different race. For me to do well here I have to have a super day. Hopefully that will happen today." What will you be riding after this? "The Amstel, and then Frankfurt (the Henninger Turm) and then a three-week break."

Click for larger image

Axel Merckx
Photo: © Jeff Jones/CN

10:49 CEST    30 km/228 km to go
Like last Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne, this race is run by the Société du Tour de France, which means that the early stages of the race are likely to see some action from the teams that are still angling for a wildcard place in the Tour. As they include most of the French teams, who rely on Tour appearances for their attractiveness to domestic sponsors, it is not surprising that a Bonjour rider, Fabrice Salanson, is the first rider to go up the road. The STF's running of the Belgian races is not wholly uncontroversial; on Wednesday the small Belgian teams of Marlux-Ville de Charleroi (sponsored by the city where the race started!), Landbouwkrediet (with Rolf Sørensen) and Palmans Collstrop (with Ronde hero Erwin Thijs) were left out in favour of second-string French teams; here the UCI's selection rules for World Cup events mean that only host country division 2 teams can be used to fill up the remaining places.

Less expectedly, Salanson has been joined by Andreas Klöden (Telekom) and the pair have a couple of minutes' lead as the race passes through Stoumont.

11:17 CEST    55 km/203 km to go
At the start American champion Fred Rodriguez was showing off his grazes from last weekend's Paris-Roubaix. "I pretty much have an open key to see how I feel. I had a lot of damage last week so they're wondering how I'm going to be. I feel fairly good and I've always been told that this is more my kind of race than the other classics, so if everybody else is right maybe this will be a better race for me." What's it like having Johan Museeuw in the World Cup leader's jersey? "We've got extra confidence, a little more at ease, we're going in with a little more feeling of control. We'll just keep doing what we're doing and it should work out."

At Lierneux, just starting the long drag up to the highest point on the course at Baraque de Fraiture, the two leaders have extended their lead to over thirteen minutes over a dawdling bunch. There's a very long way to go, though, and that sort of lead can evaporate very quickly ...

12:27 CEST    82 km/176 km to go
At Houffalize, Klöden and Salanson's lead is a massive 22 minutes, but the bunch have picked up the pace slightly.

There are no clear favourites in today's race, but one rider you can't discount is Lance Armstrong, back in the race after several year's absence. However, he this morning he didn't overrate his own chances. "I just got back from Texas. I didn't have a good week of training. I didn't recover from my trip very well. I don't feel super."
You've finished second twice here before - how do you feel now? "It's a different race now. In those days [1995 and 1996] it was the biggest race of the year for me. Now the focus is a little different. I don't want to discredit the race but it takes a special type of form to win. I don't have that right now. We need to ride a team race because George is still tired from Roubaix. It's going to be a surprise. I'll try to have some fun. I think the race isn't as hard as it used to be. You have a lot of riders together up to La Redoute, even after then. It's a different Liege-Bastogne-Liege than the one I used to know. In 94 and 95 the race was over by the Stockeu. That never happens any more. No, I don't have that feeling. I don't have the legs."

Click for larger image

Lance Armstrong
Photo: © Jeff Jones/CN

12:49 CEST    103 km/155 km to go
The leaders have now passed the turn at Bastogne with the gap steady at 22 minutes, and are doubling back towards Houffalize before turning east.

The UCI ran blood haematocrit tests this morning on six teams: Crédit Agricole, Landbouwkrediet, Lotto-Adecco, Euskaltel, ONCE and Mercatone Uno. All 39 riders tested were passed fit to ride.

Lotto are on a bit of a high at the moment after Mario Aerts' Flèche win on Wednesday. This morning their team manager Jeff Braeckeveldt told us that the team were feeling good. "Today we're working for Verbrugghe; he's recovered from his illness [he was taking antibiotics which put him out of contention in the Flèche] - today I think he'll be good. Baguet did not ride in the Basque Tour so his condition is a bit behind the others. Today we'll see how he is, but probably he'll be riding for Verbrugghe. Mario Aerts has good morale after Wednesday's win; he is very motivated. I hope we'll have two riders in the top ten - that would mean a very successful LBL for us. Serge Baguet himself said "I'm feeling good for the moment. Wednesday I was good too. I had bad luck - a flat tyre before the first time up the Mur; I had to come back from a long way behind." Will there be there three of you up there today? "We'll see how it goes. You never know what will happen. We'll see at the end."

13:54 CEST    128 km/130 km to go
After an uneventful (sorry, Greg) 30 km stretch across the plateau from Houffalize to Vielsalm the gap to the two leaders is now coming down from its 22 minute peak to a quarter of an hour as the riders approach the first officially ranked climb, the Côte de Wanne, which is more or less where things start getting serious.

With no out and out favourites for the race, the strongest looking team on paper has to be Fassa Bortolo, with Michele Bartoli, Francesco Casagrande, Ivan Basso and Wladimir Belli; their lack of success so far this spring may point to a case of too many cooks, though. Also looking threatening on Wednesday was Dario Frigo, who missed the winning move but was clearly the strongest coming from behind on the final climb.

14:22 CEST    166 km/92 km to go
At the foot of the third climb, the legendary Stockeu with its monument to Eddy Merckx, the two leaders still have just over ten minutes lead over a peloton who are still some way down on the slowest race schedule; Klöden has trouble following his young companion on the climb, but Salanson eases up and waits for him.

14:34 CEST    83 km/175 km to go
The two leaders are now on the Cote de Wanneranval, and again Klöden is dropped, and this time it looks as though his companion is going to continue alone.

At the same time the bunch, one climb behind, tackle the Stockeu with Fassa Bortolo's Sergei Ivanov riding tempo at the front, with Armstrong, Casagrande, Boogerd, Bettini and Vinokourov in leading positions behind him. Over the top there are a lot of riders strung out behind and some who will have had enough for the day, but no big splits.

14:44 CEST    
The bunch tackles Wanneranval (which has been brought into the course to replace the traditional climb of the Haute-Levée, which can no longer be used since road safety improvements put in following a very nasty accident where a runaway petrol tanker ploughed straight into the centre of the little town of Stavelot) again with the Fassa Bortolo vests massed at the front, and Mirko Celestino and Igor Astarloa (Saeco) also prominent.

World Cup leader Johan Museeuw has pulled out of the race after the Stockeu.

14:54 CEST    185 km/73 km to go
As the bunch, still some 120 riders strong, plunges back down to Trois-Ponts in the valley, Salanson has 7.30 lead, setting out on the road up to the Cote de la Rosier. On the main road there is a flurry of attacks, first unsuccessfully by Bartoli, then by a group of six riders including Andrea Peron, David Clinger, Geert Verheyen, Sergio Barbero and Bobby Julich who get a few seconds clear.

15:01 CEST    189 km/69 km to go
The group are caught at the foot of the Rosier, while Salanson is continuing alone some seven minutes ahead. Fassa Bortolo have less of a grip on the bunch this time, and Phonak's Matthias Buxhofer gets clear. US Postal are being very watchful around Armstrong.

Rik Verbrugghe is caught up in a minor crash just before the climb and is chasing back up to the bunch on the run up to the climb.

On the Rosier proper, first Buxhofer (5.50 down) and then the bunch (at 6.20) catch Klöden. Banesto's Denis Menchov sets out in pursuit of Buxhofer.

On the final kilometre of the climb Fassa Bortolo's Gorazd Stangelj takes over the pacemaking role, and surprisingly Dario Frigo is dropped. Also seemingly under the weather is Danilo di Luca, riding at the back of the bunch on the climb.

15:17 CEST    199 km/59 km to go
Salanson is descending back towards La Gleize and the last feed; he is still looking stylish and comfortable with a lead of just under 5 minutes - this a good performance by a promising youngster. Behind him the bunch appears to have lost momentum a bit. The next climb is the Côte de la Vecquée.

Telekom veteran Udo Bölts attacks just before the feed as Salanson is already winding up through the pine trees on the Vecquée.

15:32 CEST    206 km/52 km to go
On the Vecquée Salanson's lead is still 3.50 ahead of the bunch with three riders between them. In the final kilometre of the climb Massimo Codol attacks and is joined by Stefano Garzelli; the two of them then catch Bölts. On the open and rolling road past the Vecquée summit that groups swells to a dozen riders, and suddenly it looks as though it could be a very significant move. We have:
Serge Baguet (Bel) Lotto - Adecco
Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei - Quick Step
Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mapei - Quick Step
Massimo Codol (Ita) Lampre - Daikin
Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre - Daikin
Geert Verheyen (Bel) Rabobank
Udo Bölts (Ger) Team Telekom
Andréas Klöden (Ger) Team Telekom
Matthias Kessler (Ger) Team Telekom
Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole
Denis Menchov (Rus) Ibanesto.Com
Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco Macchine Per Caffè - Longoni Sport
Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita) Saeco Macchine Per Caffè - Longoni Sport

Behind - about 20 seconds as yet - it is now Domo and US Postal taking up the chase.

15:46 CEST    215 km/43 km to go
Coming down to Remouchamps and the foot of the steep, narrow and crowded La Redoute, the acceleration behind has brought the group of 14 to within half a minute of Salanson, with the bunch another half a minute behind; it looks as though he will be caught on the climb.

15:51 CEST    223 km/35 km to go
Salanson is caught and quickly dropped on the lower part of La Redoute after 220 km on the attack. Guido Trentin (Cofidis) tries to get across the gap. Ahead, Bölts cannot hold the pace set by Garzelli and Basso, and neither can several of the others - in the end only Kessler, Bettini and Spezialetti manage to hold them, with Celestino not far behind.

Over the top of the climb, Codol and Celestino make it a front group of seven (six Italians!), with another group with Moreau and Baguet behind, and Boogerd, Kivilev, Vinokourov, Bruylandts and Rebellin are the fastest of a splintered bunch.

16:02 CEST    229 km/29 km to go
A very fast descent to the foot of the Cote de Sprimont, with the seven leaders followed by a chasing group comprising the Moreau group dropped on La Redoute and the Boogerd group which has caught them - behind US Postal lead a much diminished peloton.

On the climb, not one of the hardest, the Boogerd group is caught but as the bunch close to 9 seconds from the break, Paolo Bettini attacks alone. It does not last long, however. At the front of the bunch the unexpected sight of Peter Van Petegem and Oscar Freire. The gap is only a quarter of a minute at the outside, but the chase is not very well organised.

16:12 CEST    236 km/22 km to go
At Esneux after the descent to the valley of the Ourthe the group of seven have stretched their lead out to 27 seconds; Mapei and Saeco riders are policing any move; it is now the orange vests of Euskaltel that are leading the chase.

16:15 CEST    240 km/18 km to go
At the foot of the climb of Sart-Tilman the lead is up to 50 seconds, and it looks like the bunch are beaten, unable to organise a chase despite Armstrong himself making an appearance at the front. The two Mapeis, Garzelli and Bettini, look to be the strongest, but that may mean that they are doing too much work.

16:20 CEST    244 km/14 km to go
Spezialetti is the first victim of the long grind up to the University of Liege campus; Garzelli is setting the pace. Behind Boogerd and Rebellin (heavily policed by Mapei and Telekom) are leading up a diminishing bunch; Armstrong is reported as being dropped. The gap is still growing, though.

16:29 CEST    250 km/8 km to go
The riders plunge down the main road to Seraing with Garzelli burying himself for his teammate's chances; as they pass the football ground of Standard Liege (who are playing away to Aalst today, 1-1 at the moment) to an enthusiastic welcome in what is basically Liege's Little Italy. Kessler is carefully staying close to Bettini's back wheel. The lead is 1.08; behind Beat Zberg (Rabobank) has crashed on the descent and Astarloa has punctured.

16:34 CEST    253 km/5 km to go
On the Côte de Saint-Nicolas Garzelli unexpectedly attacks, and then a few seconds later his teammate Bettini jumps across to him; under the red, white and green tricolours the two open a gap of a hundred metres or so on the steepest section. Basso is alone behind, the other three another 50 metres behind. A perfect move by the Mapei pair?

16:38 CEST    255 km/3 km to go
At the foot of the long drag up to Ans the pair have 18 seconds lead; Basso has been caught by Kessler, Celestino and Codol.

16:42 CEST    257 km/1 km to go
Mapei team manager Parsani comes to give the last instructions to his two stars just before the flamme rouge; there is a bit of discussion but it looks as though Garzelli is towing Bettini to a second LBL win. The four behind will not catch them

16:43 CEST    
The two shake hands just before the last corner, then Garzelli leads Bettini out for a show sprint in which he stands no chance, both riders cross the line arms aloft, Bettini pointing at Garzelli who brought him to the finish in the proverbial armchair.

Basso gets away to finish alone in third, followed by Celestino, Codol and Kessler (first non-Italian!).

Peter Van Petegem leads in the remnants of the bunch for a seventh place.

Result (258 km)

1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step              6.39.44 (38.8 km/h)
2 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                       0.15
4 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport            0.23
5 Massimo Codol (Ita) Lampre-Daikin                    0.28
6 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Team Telekom                  0.35
7 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Adecco                 1.03
8 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
9 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
10 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom
11 Francesco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com
12 Marcos Serrano (Spa) ONCE
13 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
14 Andrei Kivilev (Kaz) Cofidis
15 Dave Bruylandts (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites
16 Axel Merckx (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites                  1.08
17 Nicki Soerensen (Den) CSC-Tiscali                   1.14
18 Mario Aerts (Bel) Lotto-Adecco                      1.27
19 Laurent Brochard (Fra) Jean-Delatour
20 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service

World Cup (provisional)

1. Johan Museeuw (Bel) Domo - Farm Frites       170
2. Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone         120
3. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei - Quickstep        110
4. Andrea Tafi (Ita) Mapei - Quickstep          109