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Last week’s headlines in Pro Cycling news and what’s coming up…
Gaspa gets the Amstel Gold; Freire surprises; Bettini recons Worlds course; Gilbert back to normal; Evans abandons Ardennes; La Flèche Wallonne; Attention on Liège; Giro’s mountain jersey blue?; Trentino time; Contador to race Vuelta with Saxo Bank;
Gaspa gets the Amstel Gold
Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) surprised the experts to win Amstel Gold on Sunday in Valkenburg. It had been just over two years since the Italian’s last win, a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, and bookmakers had only given him 35 to 1 odds.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) were the favourites ahead of the first of three Ardennes Classics. Gilbert won the last two years and last year, went on take the Ardennes Triple Crown.
Rodríguez placed second last year and played off team-mate Oscar Freire this year. Freire animated the race with an attack from seven kilometres out. Just after the top of the Keutenberg, he shot free. He hoped to gain enough of an advantage to survive the 1.2-kilometre climb up to the finish line on the Cauberg.
Gasparotto took advantage of the situation. He explained, “I thought he [Freire] would arrive, but you must consider the great champions who want to win and who are forced to work. If Philippe [Gilbert] stayed back behind the others, then Oscar would have stayed clear. Philippe wanted to win. I was lucky to be an outsider and I took advantage of that!”
Freire had 12 seconds with three kilometres to race. Behind, Greg Van Avermaet chased for team-mate Gilbert. Gasparotto stayed attentive behind his team-mate, Maxim Iglinsky.
Gilbert took over at the foot of the Cauberg, pulled back Freire but exploded. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) came by with Gasparotto in tow.
“In 2010, I misjudged the sprint [and placed third]. I know I don’t have a strong punch like poor Peter, so I used a 39 gear in the hardest part and tried only to stay on the others’ wheels. In the last 200 metres, when the road eased up, I used the 53, but just so I’d have enough in the last 20 metres to pass Peter. That was the key to my sprint.”
Spain’s Freire won all three of his World Championship titles in sprints. Two years ago, he won Milan-San Remo and Paris-Tours in sprints. Therefore, his solo attack ahead of the Cauberg was surprising.
“I had good feelings,” he said the finish, “so I went for it.”
Unexpected moves like Freire’s help make cycling exciting. It’ll be sad to see the 36-year-old retire at the end of this year. However, he said that if he wins a record fourth Worlds title this fall, he would continue. Of note, the Worlds finishes with the Cauberg climb on September 23. The only difference is that the finish line is another 1500 metres further, which could be perfect for Freire.
Bettini recons Worlds course
Italian national coach and two-time World Champion, Paolo Bettini travelled to preview the 2012 Worlds course in Limburg. He said that with the finish line further back, on a slight downhill, four to five riders might re-regroup.
As with 2010, from Melbourne to Geelong, the race starts with a 100-kilometre leg from Maastricht. It follows a similar course as Amstel Gold. The course repeats a 16.5-kilometre circuit 10 times, each with the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg climb.
“The Bemelerberg is easier than the Cauberg,” Bettini explained. “The Cauberg will make the difference.”
Gilbert back to normal
Gilbert showed in Amstel Gold that he’s approaching the form he had last year. Already by this point last year, he’d won five races, including Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold.
“The team was taking its responsibility,” he said outside the bus. “I told Mauro Santambrogio and Greg Van Avermaet at 50K to go that I was good. I asked them to start working – they did.”
The Belgian Champion is still not the out-right favourite as he was last year ahead of Flèche and Liège. However, he said “for the first time I felt my normal legs. That gives me confidence.”
Evans abandons Ardennes
Evans abandoned the Amstel Gold and pulled the plug on the remaining Ardennes Classics. He has his eyes on defending his Tour de France title.
“There’s a race in July which is more important than this race,” he explained ahead of Amstel Gold. He stopped at the bus with 75 kilometres yet to race.
“We know his main objective is in a few months in July,” sports director, John Lelangue said in a press release. “He has to make a good Tour of Romandy. It will be a good test in real stage race conditions – with a time trial, prologue and mountain stages.”
Evans continues his recovery from a sinus infection, explained team doctor, Max Testa.
La Flèche Wallonne
Evans won the Flèche Wallonne two years ago in the rainbow jersey, but without him, Gilbert off-top form, and Rodríguez questionable, there is nobody who is the out-right favourite.
The race starts near Brussels in Charleroi and travels to Huy. After the first climb up the wall, the Mur de Huy, it completes a loop south of the city. However, the final loop north of Huy will give us an idea of who can win. From the penultimate climb, the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet, the main group will race to capture any early escapees and position for the race up Huy’s ramp.
“We’re not the favourites for Flèche in the same way that we were for Amstel or will be for Liège, and this could work in our favour,” explained GreenEDGE’s Daryl Impey in a press release. “We haven’t discussed specifics tactic yet, but I presume we’ll be riding for Michael Albasini.”
Favourites and odds:
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) – 11:4
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) – 11:4
Jelle Vanendert (Lotto) – 7:2
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – 11:1
Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – 18:1
Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) – 24:1
Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE) – 100:1
Attention on Liège
Attention will quickly shift to Liège-Bastogne-Liège after soigneurs wipe sweat and grime off the riders’ faces in Huy. It’s one of cycling’s five monuments, the next one after Paris-Roubaix, and the oldest of the ‘classics’, first run in 1892.
Grand Tour riders have the best chance of winning in Liège and in Italy at the Giro di Lombardia. Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) won in Liège in 2009. It also boasts an alarming frequency of its winners being linked to doping scandals. Since 2003, Tyler Hamilton, Davide Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca, and Alejandro Valverde have all been tainted by controversy.
Liège covers in 11 climbs in 257.5 kilometres. They are longer than the Tour of Flanders climbs, steep and appear frequently in the northern run back to Liège. Last year, Andy and Fränk Schleck attacked free with Gilbert on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Nearly 20 kilometres later, on the rise to the finish in Ans, Gilbert shot free of the brothers.
The closing climbs:
Km 223.0 – Côte de La Redoute
Km 238.0 – Côte de La Roche aux Faucons
Km 252.0 – Côte de Saint-Nicolas
Giro’s mountain jersey blue?
Just when we were getting used to the Giro d’Italia’s mountain classification jersey being green, the organiser changes its colour. Now that it’s blue, the colour of the former Inter-Giro jersey, we’re all confused.
Ennio Doris, president of Banca Mediolanum has the answers. He told sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, “Blue is our colour.”
The bank wanted a different colour to celebrate its 10th year of jersey sponsorship and a new four-year agreement. The mountain classification began in 1933, but only in 1974 was the green jersey introduced.
The Giro del Trentino this week will help Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) find form ahead of the Giro d’Italia.
“This is like a second season debut,” the Italian said in a press release. “My programme was compromised and I have few racing days in my legs.”
Last month, he crashed in the second leg of Paris-Nice and abandoned with rib pain in stage six. Two weeks later, he banged his right knee during a crash in the Volta a Catalunya.
“I’m thinking of this appointment only as a step towards the Giro d’Italia.”
1: April 17, Riva del Garda – Arco TTT, 14.3km
2: April 18, Mori – Sant’Orsola Terme, 152.0km
3: April 19, Pergine – Brenzone, 167.8km
4: April 20, Castelletto di Brenzone – Passo Pordoi, 177.5km
Contador to race Vuelta with Saxo Bank
Alberto Contador says he will likely race the Vuelta a España with Saxo Bank when his doping ban ends. The race runs September 18 to September 9, just two weeks after his suspension ends.
“Returning to race with Saxo Bank is my first choice,” he told Spain’s Cope website. “They supported me, from the management to the sponsorship level. I have better offers, but that support has no price.”
He tested positive for the banned Clenbuterol drug at the 2010 Tour de France. On February 6, the sport’s high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favour of the UCI’s appeal and gave him a backdated, two-year ban. He was stripped of 12 wins, including his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles.
His suspension ends August 5. He is likely to race the Eneco Tour and the San Sebastián classic before the Vuelta a España.