Philippe Gilbert will win Liege, and Belgium may form a government.
Given his charismatic win in Brabantse Pijl, his convincing defense in Amstel Gold Race, and astonishing sprint in la Fleche Wallonne, it is natural that Gilbert is the favorite for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Despite speculation of a weaker OmegaPharma-Lotto squad, two domestiques have been stand-outs: Jelle Vanendert and Jussi Veikkanen. Even GC hope Jurgen Van Den Broeck had some presence, if not the legs to net a good result. All this, and other factors that I will explain below, makes Gilbert my top favorite for Sunday instead of Joachim Rodriguez, despite Katusha’s stronger squad.
One can argue that Katusha brings the strongest hilly classics squad, and that numbers matter more in Liege than it does in la Fleche. I argue, however, that this is exactly why Gilbert the Rolleur will trounce Rodriguez the Pocket-Rocket.
Liege has seen a more controlled race in modern times, perhaps to the detriment of pocket-rockets. This year we have seen that the hilly classics squads came to win, not to watch each other. Thus, I predict a similarly controlled race all the way to the foot of Cote de St. Nicolas. Firework is sure to light up at this point. Numbers will play a big role, but equally important is how many captains will be playing to win. Rodriguez will be present, as will Alexandr Kolobnev. I expect Alexandre Vinokourov and at least A. Schleck to also figure here, plus with high probability one Rabobank co-captain (my pick is Robert Gesink) and one Euskaltel co-captain (Igor Anton). Hence, when a Katusha attacks, there will more than one aspirant who will follow wheels. This is the game-theoretic difference between having only two contenders and having 6 pretenders. The race will then turn into a question of who has the better staying power to put on one last burst, and my bet is a roleur such as Gilbert will trounce the pocket-rockets. -Julius
Joaquim Rodriguez will win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.
It’s hard to bet against Phillipe Gilbert this week, but if one is forced to, then Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the place to do it. It was tempting to write him off for la Fleche Wallone and its finish on the Mur de Huy’s devastatingly steep slopes, but he had the power. However Liege-Bastogne-Liege is not a power race. It’s a tactical race, where teams that enter the finale with several riders in the lead groups can benefit immensely. To wit, last year, Alexander Vinokourov went up the road with Katusha’s Alexander Kolobnev – their escape was aided by the presence of Alberto Contador in the group behind. The race favorite, he was marked – which allowed Vino to slip away. Were he recaptured, betting on a Contador victory would have been a safe bet.
Joaquim Rodriguez enters LBL with arguably the strongest team in the race, with Sergei Ivanov, Alexander Kolobnev, and Danilo de Luca – each of which are threatening in long, hilly one-day races. Katusha is due for a big victory – it’s been a dry spring for them. Liege presents a perfect opportunity – they get to throw a bunch of one-day stars into a long, tactical race. Joachin Rodriguez has demonstrated top form in Amstel Gold and la Fleche Wallone, coming in 2nd to Gilbert both days. He’s clearly been “the best of the rest,” as it were. And on Sunday, he gets to take advantage of a Katusha team that is markedly stronger than Gilbert’s OmegaPharma-Lotto, and win the biggest race of his career. -Mattio
Hey readers, who’s your money on? Take a look at our LBL preview and think it over.