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Road race - Men
Follow the Liège - Bastogne - Liège live with Eurosport. The Liège - Bastogne - Liège race starts at 09:15 on 24 April 2011. Find Liège - Bastogne - Liège results, calendar, standings and table. Get all the info on the teams to watch.
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Well, was it all a bit of an anti-climax in the end? The only man to attack on the Côte de St. Nicolas was Gilbert, and I suspect that when the Schlecks saw just how strong he was, they knew there was pretty much no point in attacking him. He was simply too strong.
Frank Schleck was second, Andy third, with Roman Kreuziger leading home the chasing group some distance back in fourth!
BANG! Gilbert explodes away, and that was that! Gilbert wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege! He's completed the Ardennes hat-trick.
Gilbert launches the sprint with 120 metres remaining!!!
Still no move from either Schleck. Frank is on the front, Gilbert in the middle, Andy at the back.
Things are looking very good for Gilbert. We know he's the man with the sprint.
The Schlecks and Gilbert reach the 1km banner! No attacks yet! Surely the Schlecks need to do something soon!
Nibali, Uran, Kreuziger and Chris Sorensen have now reached and passed Van Avermaet! Though they're still 42 seconds back. It will indeed be between the Schlecks and Gilbert.
Nick Nuyens is leading a chasing quartet trying to get across, including Uran. I don't think they're going to make it across.
The two Schlecks are sitting right on Gilbert's wheel, conscious that Van Avermaet is not all that far behind, and Gilbert certainly doesn't want Van Avermaet back here.
Frank Schleck's in a good position now. He'll just sit on Gilbert's wheel, while the Belgian does all the work, and now Andy Schleck has fought his way back! Can the two of them work together?
Gilbert attacks!!! Frank is leading the chase, Andy is struggling badly! Gilbert sees that he's shaken off one of the Schlecks, and immediately goes again!
Gilbert is on the front of the trio! Where are the attacks from the Schlecks? Are they waiting for the flat section at the top?
Van Averrmaet is dropped.
The leaders hit the Côte de St. Nicolas - the final climb of the day. The peloton are now just 29 seconds back!
How long can Van Avermaet hang in here? If he can get over the top of the St. Nicolas with the leaders, then he's by far the best sprinter here! That's a mighty bif "if", though.
The gap is increasing, and it looks like it's gonig to be a straight fight between these four (or three, as Van Avermaet will be blown away as soon as the big attacks come). It's now out to 41 seconds with 10km to go.
Van Avermaet is hanging on by a thread. Little more than a thread. He is exhausted.
Katusha and Astana are heading the chase in the peloton now, while Gasparotto has been dropped from the lead group too. 24 seconds is the gap from the leaders (Andy + Frank Schleck, Gilbert and Van Avermaet) back to the pack.
No sooner have I spotted Pineau than he's been dropped. So we're now down to five out front, with Euskaltel leading the case in the peloton. Igor Anton and Kolobnev have now broken clear and are trying to bridge the gap.
In fact - Pineau is also in the lead group - so there are six in there! They have 30 seconds over the pack.
Just one climb to come now - the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. The Schlecks' advantage in this lead group, of course, is that there are two of them, so can try and combine their efforts to shake off Gilbert.
The Schlecks and Gilbert have ridden up to the leaders. So, we now have a lead five of Gasparotto, the two Schlecks, Van Avermaet and Gilbert. Surely Katusha have to react?
Puncture for Vino!!! What terrible timing!!!
Andy Schleck now attacks from the front of the peloton! Frank goes with him, as does Gilbert!!
The leaders now hit the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, and Juan Manuel Garate is immediately dropped, as is Sioutsou! It's Gasparotto and Van Avermaet who have really put the hammer down!
A fairly lively discussion is taking place between Andy Schleck and Philippe Gilbert over which team should do the work on the front of the pack. Which has meant the breakaway have extended their lead to 47 seconds.
Just two hills to go now - the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, which comes 20km from home, and the Côte de St Nicolas, which comes 6km from the end.
Sioutsou, Garate, Ten Dam, Kadri, Gasparotto, Van Avermaet and Pineau are in this lead group, though their lead is tumbling. It's down to just 32 seconds with 30km to go.
The lead group has been whittled down to just 7 or 8 riders. Gasparotto, Ten Dam, Pineau are in there for certain. I'll bring you more names when I have them - they're going through a shady section at the moment, and the camera on the motorbike is bouncing all over the place, making it difficult to spot faces.
Dario Cataldo is suffering - he has been dropped - and Frank Schleck and Jakob Fuglsang lead the pack up the Redoute! The effects of their work are really being felt at the back, where riders are being dropped left, right and centre.
Gasparotto leads the breakaway group over the crest of the Côte de la Redoute, with Pineau, Gadri, and Ten Dam in his wheel. Their lead is down to just 52 seconds, though.
Oh! Well, the graphic on my screen has just, almost instantaneously, but the gap to 1'05". Suddenly things are a lot less worrying for the favourites back in the peloton. Meanwhile, Stefan Denifl has come down at the back of the peloton.
The leaders now hit the Côte de la Redoute, a 2km climb at 8.8%! The gap has come down slightly for the first time in a while - it's now at 1'35". Gasparotto is leading them up.
Trek and Lotto must be hoping that the inevitable attacks in the breakaway start to kick off pretty soon, disrupting their rhythm. The gap's now up to 1'42".
Not quite panic stations in the peloton, but not far off it. The gap continues to rise, despite the Trek-Leopard boys doing their utmost to bring it down. It's now 1'35".
1'00" the gap now. Gilbert was talking before the race about the danger of him being marked out of the race (similar to Cancellara in the cobbled classics), having won Amstel and Fleche in such dominating manner. He said he wasn't worried about it, though: "Cancellara did not have a team like I have. He was alone in the last 40km. I'm alone in the last 300m. It's a big difference."
The gap is growing! It's now out to 1'12" as the 13 escapees are working very well together. Omega Pharma-Lotto and Trek-Leopard really have their work cut out today.
The chasing group have now caught the five leaders, and we now have a large leading group of 13 riders, who have a lead of 44 seconds over the peloton. I say 13, because Movistar's Jesus Herrada has just been dropped.
The peloton are strung right out along the road in a long line now as the Française des Jeux and Omega Pharma-Lotto teams set a punishing pace. One wonders how much this wil take out of the likes of Vanendert and Van den Broeck, who will be crucial for Gilbert in terms of shutting down attacks on the Redoute and the Roche aux Faucons.
Thomas de Gendt once again leads the way over the top of the Côte du Rosier, while Giampolo Caruso (Katusha) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) have broken clear of the pack too. They are now 20 seconds ahead of the pack, though 53 seconds behind the lead quintet.
The lead seven have a 26' lead over the chasing group of 10, and a 1'09" second lead over the peloton. All this is making for an extremely quick race. In fact, it's now a lead five, as Kessiakoff and Delfosse have been dropped.
Nin riders now have broken clear of the pack! They are Kanstantin Siutsou (HTC), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Laurens Ten Dam and Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Jerome Pineau and Dario Cataldo (Quickstep), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas), and Biel Kadri (Ag2r) have gone clear and are about to catch Talabardon and Delage, who were dropped from the lead septet earlier. Le Lay has already been taken back in by the peloton.
Yannick Talabardon, Mickael Delage and David Le Lay are losing contact on the Côte de la Haute-Levée as the pace begins to tell. Hoogerland and Nordhaug have been caught by the peloton too, though now some very classy riders are trying their luck and attempting to jump clear of the bunch, notably Roman Kreuziger and Jens Voigt.
Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland and Lars Petter Nordhaug of Team Sky have broken away from the pack in climb up the Côte de Stockeu, though with the peloton having stepped up their tempo it would be a suprise if they could remain clear for long.
The gap has come down considerably as we reach the Côte de Stockeu, to just 1'50". That's mainly thanks to the efforts of the Trek-Leopard team, who have taken up the chase on the front of the bunch. This Côte de Stockeu is the third hill, and steepest one on the route - just 1km long but at 12.2%. The hills come thick and fast pretty much all the way through to the finish now.
To answer Anthony's question below, Roche is in decent form this year. He had a fair few knee problems over the winter, and struggled in the very early part of the season, though is starting to improve. He placed seventh on a stage in the Volta a Catalunya a while ago, and finished a creditable 10th at Paris-Camembert, two weeks ago. He should still be fine for the Tour this year. Just think back to Jan Ullrich - he was usually still 10kg overweight at this time of year.
Thomas de Gendt is first over the top of the Côte de Wanne after 156km, followed by Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) and Vorganov (Katusha). The pack are now 3'50" behind.
Peter is dead right with our trivia. The last Belgian winner of LBL was indeed Frank Vandenbroucke, who died 18 months ago.
The breakaway have stretched their lead to 4'00" as they approach the Côte de Wanne. The Omega Pharma-Lotto team has been pulling at the head of the peloton up until now, though will also be helped by the Trek-Leopard and Rabobank teams should it grow much further, as neither of them have any riders in the breakaway either.
I plumped for Gilbert at Amstel Gold, though tipped Rodriguez at Fleche. I genuinely thought the Mur would be a little too steep. But given the way he demolished everyone on it, I'm going to have to go with Gilbert again. I can't see anyone having the legs to drop him on either the Roche aux Faucons or the Redoute, nor can I see anyone outsprinting him. And even if the likes of Katusha try successive attacks, the likes of Vanendert and Van den Broeck are strong enough to bring them tham back.
Justin says: "Go Simon Gerrans, with Gilbert marked like Cancellara, he is perfectly placed form-wise to slip away in a small breakaway near the finish." Nicholas plumps for Philippe Gilbert, while Me, presumably hailing from Spain, says "Sammy Sanchez...viva España!"
The riders could hardly have wished for better weather today. Sun, blue skies, and not a cloud to be seen. It's not too hot either - around 24 degrees - and there's nothing more than a fresh breeze in the air.
Time for our first bit of trivia for the day too. Phil Gilbert is hot favourite for today, but who was the last Belgian to win this race? You can have a clue - it was back in 1999 - but no googling!
Not much happenening out on the road at present. The peloton are still keeping the breakaway on a 3-minute leash, and we're now on one of the course's few flat(ish) sections, 35 kilometres from the next hill, the Côte de Wanne.
I was about to say it's time for you guys to make your predictions for today, but it seems that it already well underway. John sticks his neck out on the line for Philippe Gilbert, saying "barring accidents, he should win today." Peter then points out "But wasn't Philippe Gilbert the pre-race favourite of the WC 2010 too?" What about the rest? Post your predictions below, and I'll put them into the live.
Robert GESINK: Of the three Ardennes classics, this is perhaps the one that suits him best. He's never going to win a sprint, so must use either the Côte de la Redoute or the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons to get clear. If he doesn't he'll be working for Rabobank team-mate Oscar Freire, who most certainly does have a sprint.
Aleksandr KOLOBNEV: Katusha and Trek-Leopard are perhaps the two strongest overall teams here, and the former team in particular have several riders with superb classics pedigree. Kolobnev was second here last year after being dropped close to the finish by Vinokourov, and another audacious attack from the Russian 20-30 kilometres from home is more than likely. A real threat that Gilbert must keep a close eye on.
Ag2r DS Vincent Lavenu to letour.fr, commenting on Nicolas Roche, who had to abandon Fleche Wallonne after a fall: “He's is doing well. He just has burns and bruises but nothing serious. He’s in better shape than last year at the same period. It’s always good to have a rider [David Le Lay] at the front in a breakaway group, although the Lotto team has taken control of the race. They don’t want a breakaway group to take off too far away and are assuming their role as the favourite’s team."
Oscar Freire makes it back to the bunch after a puncture forces him to drop back to the team car. Meanwhile, the leaders have reached Bastogne, with a margin of 3'40" over the peloton.
Samuel SANCHEZ: The Olympic champion certainly possesses a fine sprint in a difficult finish, and he is in decent form, as his 3rd place at Fleche Wallonne and win in stage 4 of the Tour of the Basque Country would suggest. However, that third place on Wednesday was a long, long way in sprint terms behind Gilbert, and it's doubtful whether he will have the legs on Rodriguez either. His recorded his best result here back in 2004, when he was fourth.
41km were covered in the second hour of racing, so an average speed of 42.1km/h so far today. Very respectable indeed. The gap remains just above the three-minute mark.
Joaquin RODRIGUEZ: Second behind Gilbert at both Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, Rodriguez is desperate for a classics victory befitting his talent. The problem is, if he wasn't able to beat Gilbert on the Mur, he's even less likely to do so on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. “Gilbert is the favourite, that’s for sure,” Rodriguez concedes, “but I proved I’m in a good shape too and I’ll try to win on Sunday for sure." Following an attack from Schleck further from home could be his best chance.
Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) is first over the Côte de St-Roch, followed by Sebastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) and Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). The pack at still 3'15" behind.
Andy SCHLECK: Last year's Tour runner-up, and the winner here back in 2009. Endurance is Schleck's strength, rather than sprinting ability or explosive accerleration. "For Gilbert it doesn’t have to be a really hard race. For us, it has to be,” he said. "We cannot sit back and wait. He can win in a sprint of 100.” An attack on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons climb, 20km from home was the launchpad for Schleck in 2009, though Gilbert and Rodriguez will be waiting for the attack this time round.
Our ten leaders hit the first of the ten hills on today's course, the Côte de St-Roch. This hill is 1 kilometre long, at 11%. An early tester for the legs.
As expected, Omega Pharma-Lotto are keeping this potentially dangerous ten-man break on a very tight leash. The gap has stabilised at around the 3'00" mark. They certainly don't want a crazy, panicked chase, as was the case for a while on Wednesday.
Philippe GILBERT: "The Mur de Huy is too steep for him," said numerous pundits, before Gilbert proved such statements pure nonsense, destroying a field including Joaquin Rodriguez and Alberto Contador at Fleche Wallonne. This, though, is the one he really wants. "It's the most important race of the season and of my career," he admitted. "It's a big thing to be the favourite at the start. If I can win, it will be amazing. I'll exchange it for all my other victories. I really want to win Liège."
Time for a look at the favourites for this race, starting with the defending champion Alexandre VINOKOUROV: Now 37, the Kazakh is entering his final season as a pro, and is confident about his chances against Gilbert, a rider he admits he'd love to sign for Astana. "It'll be very hard but I'm not afraid to get in the breakaway with Gilbert. I'm in good form and I could even beat him in the sprint, especially after 260km of racing."
43.2 kilometres were covered in the first hour. The Omega Pharma-Lotto team are at the head of the peloton now, keeping the breakaway's lead to a manageable 3'20".
Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) is perhaps the man with the biggest win under his belt in this breakaway. he won the first stage of Paris-Nice earlier this season, and in fact was also in a breakaway here last year. BMC's Mathias Frank won the mountains and sprints jerseys at last year's Tour of Switzerland, while David Le Lay won the Circuit de la Sarthe back in 2009.
Well, despite my earlier comment it seems like we may have our breakaway for the day. The ten leaders have now extended their advantage to 1'45" over the pack,
BMC's Mathias Frank makes it across! That makes it ten riders in the breakaway. Surely the big teams in the peloton will be very reluctant to let them stay clear for long.
It's all very hectic early on, as is to be expected in the last of the big Spring classics before the big stage races get udnerway in earnest. Kristof Vandewalle (Quickstep), David Loosli (Lampre) and Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen) have now tried to bridge the gap, only to be swiftly reeled in by the pack, while the same has happened to Simon Geschke, for the second time.
There are three former winners racing here today. Katusha's Danilo di Luca won here in 2007, Andy Schleck (Trek-Leopard) won here in 2009, and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) won in 2005 as well as last year, when he managed to drop Aleksandr Kolobnev on the Côte de Saint Nicolas. It'll be a long, long time before anyone reaches Eddy Merckx's record total of wins here, which stands at 5.
Three becomes nine! Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickael Delage (Française des Jeux), and Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun) have now made it across to the breakaway, 25 seconds clear of the pack, which has now caught Simon Geschke.
There are ten hills on the parcours today (hence the race's nicknake "the Ardennes rollercoaster". The steepest of which is the Côte de Stockeu, after 164 kilometres, at a punishing 12%, though the three key hills are likely to be the Côte de la Reboute (35km from the finish, 2km long @ 8% gradient), the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (20km from the finish, 1.5km long @ 9.5%) and the Côte de St Nicolas (6 kilometres from the finish, 1.2km long @ 8.3%).
The breakaway have 15 seconds' lead over the peloton, who are still moving along at a very respectable pace. Skil-Shimano's Simon Geschke is absolutely flat out trying to bridge the gap out to the three leaders, though I'm not sure he's going to manage it.
Landbouwkrediet's local boy Sebasien Delfosse has managed to escape from the pack now, and Ag2r's David Le Lay and Movistar's Jesus Herrada have gone with him.
Seven riders immediately break clear of the peloton, but they're swiftly reeled back in. After a breakaway quartet gained so much time at Fleche-Wallonne the other day, the likes of Omega Pharma-Lotto and Saxo Bank aren't likely to be so relaxed here.
The race commissar drops his flag, and the 97th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege is underway! 199 riders from 25 different teams are here.
The official start was given in the Place St. Lambert in the centre of Liège a few mintes ago, and the peloton are currently negotiating their way through the Belgian town.
As the "Ardennes week" reaches its climax, the big question on eveybody's lips is whether Philippe Gilbert can become only the second man in history to win all three races. The first was Davide Rebellin back in 2004, but some may view those victories as being tainted following the Italian's positive test for EPO in 2008.
Welcome to Eurosport-Yahoo!'s live text commentary of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.