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.