Liege-Bastogne-Liege Wrap-Up

Fotoreporter Sirotti

I’m not sure what to say following Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A few things are obvious; some, less so.

1. First and foremost, is that it’s hard not to be sentimental about Phillipe Gilbert’s performance. We did plenty of fawning over Gilbert after la Fleche Wallone; what more can one say? In the past couple of years, Phillipe Gilbert has matured from a credible threat to a powerhouse, and it seems obvious that he is on his way to being a champion of historic proportions. We’d love to see him win San Remo, win de Ronde, win the stripes, the Olympic gold medal, some stage races – everything. Allez Phillipe!

1a. Julius was right, and I was wrong. Armchair expertry requires regular wrongness.

1b. It was very difficult not to root for Gilbert to pull off this amazing Ardennes triple. He joins David Rebellin as the only Triple-Winner in history, and, adding the Brabantse Pijl, is the only Quadruple Winner. However, as he was the clear favorite, as much fun as it was to root for him, it was also fun to root against him – could anybody beat him, and if so, how? The question remains unanswered.

2. A lot of big guns were fairly quit during Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Yes, the teams with favorites – those who didn’t have riders in the break – were, by and large, doing the work necessary to keep the gap in check and launch their star riders when the Redoute climb, with some 35k left to race, began to animate the race. A credit to the level of racing this past week and a half, perhaps, that some of the favorites were just too fatigued to launch credible moves. Though the race fractured, it did little re-shuffling.

3. Should the Schlecks read Twitter, they’re likely to find quite a bit of criticism over their tactics. Go two-on-one with the clear favorite, and not attack him? But turn the situation around – on the Cote de Roche aux Facons, the brothers dropped everybody but the one guy who happens to be the clear strongman of April. That Andy got gapped on the Cote de Saint-Nicholas, with 5km left to race, shows that they were at the limit. This wasn’t a case of poor tactical decisions. It put them at their limits to even be with Gilbert. They deserve credit for going toe to toe with Gilbert in the first place. Furthermore, the Schlecks have a propensity for quiet attacks – Andy said that on the last mountain stage of the 2010 Tour, he attacked 36 times. Perhaps he and Frank were doing a bit more than was discernible to viewers.

4. Did you see the crowds on La Redoute? Maybe Belgium will form a government after all. Gilbert’s father said, “Even as a winner, he remains a simple Walloon boy. And the Flemings love him because of his racing style and because he speaks Flemish well.”

5. There were some rumors of riders and fans trying to block Gilbert throughout the race, but nothing solid has come up.

6. Katusha deserves a few more black eyes to a rough spring. The only silver lining I can find in their performance is that perhaps Joaquin Rodriguez’s 2nd places at Amstel Gold and la Fleche Wallone were instances in which he rode so far above his limit in order to try to match Gilbert’s acceleration. Indeed, for a pocket rocket like him, that he put himself a lot closer to Gilbert than anyone was to him is an impressive bit of riding. Did he fire his load in the week leading up to Liege-Bastogne-Liege? It’s slim consolation for Katusha, who’s looking for a few brighter spots, but I have a hard time blaming Rodriguez for their drought.

7. Take a look at who filled out the top ten: Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil), and Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel).

7a. Kreuziger won a stage in the Giro del Trentino last week, and looks primed for a fighting Giro – Vicenzo Nibali is also targeting the Giro. If they’re both firing on all cylinders, it could make for an interesting race. Alberto Contador goes into the Giro the clear favorite, with much experience peaking for the middle to late parts of a stage race. With the Giro’s difficult parcours this year – featuring 40 mountains, 7 mountaintop finishes, and some dirt roads – it could be a very dynamic race that comes down to some gambles on gaining time early versus stealing it back later.

7b. Leukemans, Van Avermaet, and Sanchez all deserve decent pats on the back for racing hard throughout the spring. Sanchez gave a good run at Paris-Nice, and Van Avermaet and Leukemans have both been credible threats throughout the classics. It’s impressive to see them continue racking up decent results – all be it without major wins – this late into the spring.

8. While covering the Classics, there was a lot we missed. More on that later.

9. Phillipe Gilbert has stated his goal of winning every Classic, and he’s well on his way. We’ll take a closer look at what it will take for him to do that. There may be a difficult sticking point – his lack of Paris-Roubaix experience. He’s traditionally skipped it to taper for the Ardennes Classics. Roubaix is a race that rewards experience. Has he left it for too late?

Thanks for those of us who have joined our coverage throughout the Classics, either by talking with us on Twitter, commenting in the Comments section, tuning in to The Feed Zone, or just sitting back and reading what we had to say on your RSS Feeder.

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8 Responses to Liege-Bastogne-Liege Wrap-Up

  1. Alex says:

    Point 3. Exactly what I was thinking. The brothers dropped the entire field. Only Gilbert who, unlike the Schleck's, had peaked for these races could go with them… and I think looking at it there were attacks at the end – not fast jumps but gradual increases in power. If they'd managed to take someone else along with them when they split the field the ending might have been more interesting.

  2. al b - madison says:

    RE: point 3: seems to me team schleck may have picked up a tenth team member come july. don't get me wrong all props to Gilbert. nothing was handed to him. he had to have the smarts to go with the winning move & the legs to keep with it all the way; then and only then could he start to use his brains to negotiate deals. smart by both parties, as L-B-L isn't exactly what LEO-TREK truly cares about either.

  3. grolby says:

    Hmmm, no al b-madison, I have to disagree; a deal is not impossible, but looking so far ahead? I don't buy this. And furthermore, the Schlecks are established Classics racers, and they race them to win, not as mere tune-ups for the Tour. Those arguing that they weren't peaking for this race have ne scratching my head. It's obviously a big target, and you can't win it if you aren't on top form. And while the Tour is Goal One for Leopard and the Schlecks, it's abundantly clear that they have broader goals than that. They care about winning these races. Gilbert had them outclassed, plain and simple.

  4. Touriste-Routier says:

    Re Point 3: al B-Madison, I don't think one sells classics anymore; the UCI points are too valuable, and Leopard really needed a major spring victory to make up for the near misses.. The fact that Andy was dropped shows that at least he was at the limit.

    I think the Schlecks (Andy in particular) are good at modestly upping the pace and putting in digs, but generally they lack the explosive show of force that most of us think of as an attack. It is too bad it looks like they gave Gilbert the victory; it would have been more satisfying overall if they went down in a ball of fire. But even if they were at the limit one can't help second guessing their tactics.

    While I doubt the result would have been any different, they didn't necessarily have to lead Gilbert out. If you know you are going to lose, it doesn't mean you have to conservatively the podium. In other words, force Gilbert to lead, and try to use your numerical advantage against him. If the break gets caught, you are no worse off. Sometimes you have to risk losing in order to win.

    It seems that under the current points and media system, 2nd & 3rd mean more than ever before. There was a time when 2nd meant 1st loser, except for worlds & the Olympics.

  5. al b - madison says:

    grolby/T-R… definitely see your point (especially after sparticus' spectacular near misses). if ya' ain't gettin' him out with the curve ball, you gotta bring the heater. i'd think that the Luxembourg Limousine is smart enough to see the little "up the pace" attacks weren't working on a red-hot Gilbert. perhaps schlecks were just too knackered to have a big-ring throw-down.

    maybe i've read one to many romanticized stories about Rik Van Steenbergen or Ferdi Kubler (or Sean Kelley for that matter ;-] ).

    but then, i think…

    "hey, Phil! haven't seen you since your april hat trick. yeah… how about you go wheel suck Contadork up the tourmalet so we can TCB in luz-ardiden?

  6. ScienceTwitt says:

    this is not the kelly era. I race the kermesses in belgium and there is some of that knocking about. at the pro tour level if you know you are about to join someone's team i suppose you'll give them a hand if it doesnt compromise your current team. wheelsuck contador? perhaps in bretagne on a short climb but he wont be the only one there then and it wont be for the shlecks but for himself. there have been a lot of comments about l-b-l but at the end of a monument there is no way you are faking etc. the schlecks did what they could and making the race as hard as possible for as long as possible is their only card. an explosive attack on short climbs is not how they have ever won races

  7. grolby says:

    Yep – Gilbert's own ambitions to win stages are far too important for him to burn energy playing domestique for another team. I promise you, there are only two places you might see Gilbert on a mountain stage: in the break, or in the autobus with the sprinters, waiting for a day that favors him.

  8. Pappy says:

    All very reasoned conclusions, but tell me – when exactly have the Schleck bros won a big race as a duo? I really wonder if their tag team approach is actually a good thing. When Andy won L-B-L, Franck wasn' t even racing, no? And versus Contador they only won a stage when it was gifted to them.

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