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94th Liège-Bastogne-Liège - 1.HC
Belgium, April 27, 2008
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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