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Sunday, April 24, 2022

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège team updates

Philippe Gilbert's Lotto Soudal team posted this:

On Sunday 24 April, Lotto Soudal will be at the start of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the fourth monument on the cycling calendar and traditionally the culmination of the spring Classics’ season. This year, the 108th La Doyenne is 257 kilometres long with both start and finish along the Quai des Ardennes, on the banks of the river Ourthe. After the start the peloton heads south towards Bastogne before turning north again and tackling a succession of ascents. The mythical climbs of Col du Rosier, Stockeu, Wanne and Redoute will undoubtedly thin out the bunch. The steep Roche-aux-Faucons – with the summit at 13 kilometres from the finish – forms the apotheosis of La Doyenne. Afterwards, it's downhill towards Liège, where the winner will be crowned.

For Philippe Gilbert it will be a special day as the 39-year-old local will be racing on ‘his’ roads of La Doyenne for the 17th and final time.

Philippe Gilbert wins L-B-L in 2011

Philippe Gilbert wins L-B-L in 2011. Sirotti photo

“Of course it will be a special moment to ride one last time on the roads that have given me so much”, Philippe Gilbert said. “My name is written on the climb of La Redoute countless times, which will give me goosebumps for sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to waste my energy trying to be in first positions if I’m still part of the front group. I mainly want to concentrate on obtaining a good result. Because of the removal of the Côte des Forges, I think the climb of La Redoute has gained importance. Since we don’t have the top favourite in the team, we need to anticipate. However, on a course with lots of wide and exposed roads that will be a difficult task. But since there is no clear favourite this year, it could be an open race.”

Tim Wellens has been at the start of Liège-Bastogne-Liège each year since 2013. The Lotto Soudal rider achieved his best result in 2019 with an eleventh place. During his tenth participation, Wellens aspires a top ten spot.

“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a very different race from Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. Just like Phil I think the final can be a bit more open because it’s becoming a trend that races are starting more early. I hope to be there in the final. For that, I might have to anticipate the final ascent of La Roche-aux-Faucons. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the hardest courses of the year where the best riders automatically come out on top. I did already a recon of the slightly renewed course a while ago but I don’t expect it to have a big impact on how the race will unfold. La Doyenne is a race I really love and I will try to get the best result possible. Expressing specific ambitions is difficult but the healthy ambition is to finish within the first ten riders on the Quai des Ardennes”, Tim Wellens concludes.

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Philippe Gilbert, Sébastien Grignard, Matthew Holmes, Sylvain Moniquet, Harm Vanhoucke, Viktor Verschaeve and Tim Wellens.

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Here's the Liège-Bastogne-Liège preview from Team INEOS Grenadiers:

In early February he caught COVID, throwing his early-season schedule out of the window. He returned at the UAE Tour and raced Milan San Remo, but was already playing catch up. Then illness three days into Volta a Catalunya was another blow for the Pole. Three weeks later he lined up at the start of Amstel Gold, unsure how he would fare.

Six hours, one minute and 19 seconds later, he’d won it.

Michal Kwiatkowski (right) just beats Benoit Cosnefroy to win this year's Amstel Gold Race

Michal Kwiatkowski (right) just beats Benoit Cosnefroy to win this year's Amstel Gold Race. Sirotti photo

“It was super emotional,” explains Kwiato. “I’d been sick, then my wife and daughter got sick, and I was in a terrible place. Yet I never gave up. I always tried to push and do whatever I could to be competitive and useful to the team. So to win was just incredible. I’ve won ‘bigger’ races but I’ve never been as emotional as after Amstel. I know how many sacrifices we - my family and I - made to get to that position.”

Every season Kwiatkowski tries to plot the best course to the Ardennes Classics, looking to peak for tomorrow’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He’s often described it as the race of his dreams. Yet this year, after everything that had happened, he just wanted to enjoy what remained of the Classics heading into April.

“I didn’t really care about a specific race. I came here without pressure, I just wanted to improve race-to-race and help the team as best I could. I’ve been asked that a lot already: ‘Is Liege the main goal?’ But I promise I didn’t have a main goal. The goal was just to win races with this team, and have fun along the way. It was just a huge relief to be back with the boys and on schedule.

“And now of course, it is Liege. The final one. I’m excited. It’s a race I love and we have had three wins so far. We’re all in a really good mood and we’re so motivated.

“My shape could be slightly better but it’s not something I’m thinking about. In the team we say ‘All In’ this season but for me, on Sunday, it’s going to be about getting it all out. I don’t believe you have to be 100% to win the biggest bike races. There are so many circumstances and everything has to come together in that one day - shape is just one factor.

“I just want to race and see how it is on the road, see how the boys are. We don’t care who the leader is on paper - that’s not racing. It’s all about getting everything out on the road. That’s what we will do at Liege.”

Those three wins for the team - Amstel, Brabantse Pijl and Paris-Roubaix - mark the finest week in the team’s Classics history and Kwiatkowski was at the heart of them all.

“I had completely different emotions through the week. As soon as I arrived I could feel the spirit through the team. We were all talking about having the numbers in the final and doing the right thing and the execution of the plan was incredible. It’s a relatively new team for me, racing with Ben Turner and Magnus Sheffield, but I had the feeling that I’d raced with those guys for ages already. We understood each other.
“We started with that mood and then we just didn’t stop. I couldn’t recover in time for Wednesday — I couldn’t sleep after Amstel. It just felt like something else. But then those young lads went for it in Brabantse, smashing the other teams, executing the plan to perfection again. Seeing Magnus riding away from that selective group was just great.

“We celebrated big time. Those guys worked for me and Tom [Pidcock] in Amstel but then they realised at Brabantse that we are all capable of winning the races. It was amazing for such a young guy in Magnus, and for Ben too. We were really happy and that allowed us to keep that morale and momentum into Roubaix. For that race, you need that spirit.

“And Roubaix… Roubaix was something else. The execution of the plan, the spirit in the bus before the race, the meetings, the general plan, the race day itself when we split the bunch almost without trying to. Everyone was on it. In one moment I though we had a disaster when I crashed, Dylan [Van Baarle] had a puncture, Pippo [Ganna] had a puncture, there was so much going on, but we never really lost that motivation and spirit. We always believed that you have to be focused for seven hours and go for it, no matter what.

“The moment when Pippo accelerated on the Arenberg and the group started to reduce, I started to feel I wasn’t 100%, and I could see Dylan was just cruising. We realised he was the man for the day. When I was out of the race after doing what I could and when I heard he had won the race, I cried on the bike for the first time ever. I couldn’t believe it. All those efforts, the spirit that we had together, and then the bad luck we’d had in the race… we still managed to win.

“Dylan is such a professional guy, always working hard… it made me cry. I went straight to him after I crossed the line and I was crying full gas. I was so happy. You know how hard it is to get everything right in that race. In one second everything can be a disaster.

“But he did it. It was just amazing.”

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Here's the L-B-L update from Team Bahrain Victorious:

The Ardennes Classics triptych ends with the 108th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, April 24, starting and finishing in Liège (Belgium) over a 256.9km course.

The oldest Monument, known as “La Doyenne” (The Old Lady), is also considered the hardest. The gruelling course with 4,400 vertical meters and the iconic Côtes like La Redoute, le Col du Rosier and the Roche-aux-Faucons attract the climbers, but the contenders must be skilled for the fast finale too.

Bahrain Victorious won’t be hiding its ambition to be the race’s protagonist, lining up with some of the strongest contenders. Recent winner of Flèche Wallonne, Dylan Teuns, will be looking to carry his confidence into the race: “This gave me extra motivation for sure as it happened on Wednesday. That victory made me even more confident, and I still have good legs to be able to arrive in Liège and contest a selected sprint finish, if that would be the case”.

Dylan Teuns wins this year's Flèche Wallonne

Dylan Teuns wins this year's Flèche Wallonne. Sirotti photo

Alongside the Belgian leader is Matej Mohorič, who is back with the team after his brilliant performance at the Paris-Roubaix. The Slovenian Champion was close to the podium in 2020, sprinting to 4th place in Liège.

“Not only can we rely on those two champions. We also have an additional card with Jack Haig,” SD Gorazd Stangelj explains. “The quality of this lineup is premium: we also have a former Liège winner like Wout Poels, a road captain in great shape as Damiano Caruso, the experienced Luis Leon Sanchez at his 13th appearance and Mikel Landa, who joins us right after the Tour of the Alps.

From the beginning of these Ardennes Classics, we’ve shown that the team is constantly fighting to achieve the best places possible. The team at the start of Liège will be again a strong one and with big expectations.

Our number one leader will be Dylan Teuns after his stunning performance at the Flèche, but we will try to be ready for two different race outcomes. The race changed slightly in the finale, with one climb less, but as in the past editions, we expect the race to be decided on the final climb, with a small group of riders battling in the last run to Liège.

I’d like to see more than one of our guys in the finale, but it’s difficult to say as the race is always very controlled and decided on the Roche-aux-Faucons. Easy to predict, but hard to execute”.

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Team Groupama-FDJ reports on the final stage of the Tour of the Alps

I got this report too late to post yesterday:

It is on Friday, April 22, that Thibaut Pinot was definitely reborn. After more than two years of setbacks, and in the aftermath of a cruel ending, the Groupama-FDJ’s climber got up with the panache, as a champion, on the last stage of the Tour of the Alps.

On the most tiring day of the week, the Frenchman again joined the breakaway, but got rid of most of his competitors with more than sixty kilometres remaining. Only David De La Cruz was able to follow him until the end of the stage, but in the sprint, nothing could prevent Thibaut Pinot from getting this long-awaited and liberating success. As for the icing on the cake, Michael Storer climbed to second place overall thanks to an excellent ride while Attila Valter eventually took fifth.

Thibaut Pinot wins the stage. Seven seconds behind him is second-place David De La Cruz

Thibaut Pinot wins the stage. Seven seconds behind him is second-place David De La Cruz. Sirotti photo

We had left him with tears in his eyes, a few meters behind the finish line of the fourth stage, after coming very close to a liberation he had been chasing for months. The night passed in the peaceful Austrian mountains, and Thibaut Pinot returned more determined than ever to ward off bad luck on Friday. Only one hundred and fourteen kilometres made up the fifth and final stage, but a series of steep climbs and pouring rain were more than enough to make the day difficult.

“I knew from the start that it was going to be a very hard day, but I had very good legs and I really like these conditions,” said Thibaut. “I was so gutted yesterday, and I had accumulated so much frustration, that I was only thinking about this stage since last night. I had so much zeal today. I was ready to fight. I had only one wish: to win.” “He knew he had missed a real opportunity yesterday, but that could also be a trigger,” added Thierry Bricaud. “We saw each other five minutes before the briefing, and he was already focused, ready for the fight. He was motivated, ready to go forward. It was a good sign. I saw Thibaut when he arrived at 19, I saw him grow up, and I know what it means when he’s like that”.

Although the motivation was there, he also needed the legs after a tough ride on Thursday. However, when a fifteen-man group went away after thirty minutes of fighting, Thierry Bricaud did not have many doubts: “When the good move went, Julien [Pinot] told me: ”I hope that we are there”. I said: ”I don’t see what’s going on, but it’s impossible that he missed it: he hasn’t left the first five positions since the start of the stage”.

The rider from Melisey was indeed in the lead before tackling the first climb of the day. There, the leading group was already reduced to six men thanks to his pace and that of David De La Cruz. Eventually, those two broke away on the next climb and isolated themselves with more than sixty-five kilometres to go. “Nobody was close in GC, so the peloton let them go”, explained Thierry. “It was a very difficult stage, with a series of steep climbs and technical descents. On a hard stage like this, there is no need to stay with the riders of the breakaway who bring nothing”.

The Frenchman and the Spaniard therefore took a gap, and constantly kept it between forty seconds and one minute thirty on their first chasers. “I found myself with De La Cruz, who was also very strong, and we worked well together,” said Thibaut. The two men made sure to fight for the day’s victory, and got together at the bottom of the last, very tough climb towards Stronach (3 km at 12%). At this point, a slight moment of panic occurred when the Groupama-FDJ rider got in trouble with his chain ring. The problem was quickly solved, although it wasn’t the only one on the day.

“I rode the whole stage with a broken spoke,” Thibaut later explained. “Since it was only going up and down and the gaps weren’t large with the first chasers, we couldn’t do anything,” added Thierry. “We remained anxious for the whole stage, but it’s like Thibaut. With him, nothing is ever easy”.

Once done with the mechanicals, the former winner of the Tour of the Alps finally decided to test his rival about two kilometres from the summit, meaning with twelve kilometres to go. The first accelerations did not make the Spaniard crack, but after yet another attack, Thibaut Pinot managed to break away. With a fixed gaze and the open mouth, he kept pushing and managed to enter the downhill with a ten-second gap.

However, this was not enough to definitively drop David De La Cruz, who returned five kilometres from the finish for a final head-to-head towards Lienz. The two men then did not leave each other until the last, uphill 700 meters. The Frenchman kept his opponent along the barriers, and easily stood up on the pedals when the latter gradually increased the pace in the last 300 meters. Then, in the final curve, with just 150 metres to go, Thibaut Pinot easily took the outside of the turn and left behind his ultimate rival. His ultimate obstacle. A last look behind 50 metres from the line allowed him to make sure that the tunnel was indeed over. That light was finally shining on him. And that the victory was his again, almost three years later…

“It’s such a relief for me to raise my arms, even more on the Tour of the Alps which is my favourite race,” said Thibaut. “It is something very powerful for me, especially after what happened yesterday. But I always fed on my failures… Each failure gives me more strength. A fire was burning inside of me today. I didn’t miss a breakaway; I gave my all the whole stage. It was raining, it was cold, but I didn’t feel anything. Nothing could happen to me.”

Thursday’s cruel disappointment was therefore followed by Friday’s magnificent resurrection, and everyone was aware of how much this victory meant. “It’s a real relief, because he spent so many difficult months, doubting,” commented Thierry. “It also proves that when you are a champion, you remain one. He was confident, he just had to put his last two years behind once and for all. Since the Nice stage at the Tour, everything became complicated for him, and it is almost a second part of his career that starts for him today. The chapter is closed, the forward gear is engaged, and we are off again to see a very good Pinot! He knows he still has great things to do, and he doesn’t lack motivation. Without being pretentious, when I knew he was in front, I was pretty sure he was going to do it. He had so much anger and will that he couldn’t see his chance pass once again”.

“People will finally stop telling me about my thousand days or so without winning”, smiled Thibaut. “It will free me from a burden. I know that I am capable of winning good races again. It’s important to move on now, and to win more races. I want to dedicate this win to everyone who supported me. Today is also my father’s birthday, and I hope he will be happy with this gift.”

Thibaut Pinot also offered a nice gift to the team, which scored his second victory of the season on Friday. However, Thierry Bricaud’s troops also left Austria with other note-worthy results. On this last stage, Michael Storer proved to be the only one able to follow the final winner Romain Bardet and therefore came away with second place overall, while Attila Valter fought hard to secure fifth. “It’s incredible, it’s literally a perfect day for us,” said Michael on the line. “We couldn’t ask for more. In the final, I was pleasantly surprised to see many riders losing contact while I still felt good. I found myself with my two former teammates. It was impossible to take back fourteen seconds on Bardet. On the other hand, I knew that I could take a second from Arensman to get on the second step of the podium. I left it all on the line! My winter and my start to the season were difficult, I didn’t expect to be on the podium in the Tour des Alpes, so I’m really happy. It’s an exceptional day.”

“It’s a great satisfaction”, confirmed Thierry. “We had two riders in the top-10 this morning and we told ourselves to be ambitious. Michael likes these conditions quite well, and he showed it. Attila did a nice climb too. Putting two riders in the top-5, including one on the podium, in addition to getting the stage win, makes for a great week. Attila is now totally boosted and motivated, knowing that he is ready for the Giro. Michael finds his place in the team, he is improving and will now head to the Tour de Romandie, a race that also suits him perfectly. He will team-up again with Thibaut there”.

As the final icing on the cake, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team also won the team classification of the Tour des Alpes, after a last stage which saw Reuben Thompson take 20th place on the day and Lenny Martinez secure his top-15 overall (14th). A beautiful day, all over.

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