Heads up, fellas - if your Ardennes season is a wash so far, you can still salvage it. The granddaddy of them all, La Doyenne, Liége-Bastogne-Liége, is on Sunday. Lest ye forget, Liége is the only monument in this swing through southern Belgium and The Netherlands. But how do your chances look? Well, if your name isn't Philippe Gilbert or Michael Kwiatkowski, your odds are probably kinda low. But if you need quantification, here's your mid-week rankings.
Goal: Repeat Gilbert's 2011, right?
So Far: Brabantse Pijl, check. Amstel Gold, check. But then Gilbert hit the Mur de Huy in bad position and could only finish 10th. But really, you should be scared.
Prospects: Yes, BMC has been scary, racking up the wins and clearly looking like the team to beat in Liege. Their hiccup in Flèche was missing a chance to get Gilbert in good position at the bottom of the climb, a misstep amplified by the faster than usual pace in the first third of the climb. It was kind of painful to watch Ben Hermans, tasked with the job of putting Gilbert where he needed to be, looking around for his charge in the final kilometer before the Mur. In Liége, such missteps are less costly, and don't expect BMC to mess up again. But more than their results, it's how BMC have raced that is particularly ominous. They don't waste time or horsepower and will bring the race to their opponents. Expect a repeat of the tactics that saw Greg Van Avermaet in a break - and then off the front of the break - in the last 40km of Amstel Gold. Yes, things are looking good for continued domination.
2. Omega Pharma - QuickStep
Goal: Win something
So Far: Close, Kwiatkowski has ended up 5th in Amstel and 3rd in Flèche.
Prospects: Kwiatkowski is clearly a little stronger this year, and should be quite a bit fresher for Liége than he was last year thanks to not racing the cobbled classics in early April. Can he do something about Gilbert? It'll be hard and depends on how his squad responds - or preempts - the aggressive tactics BMC showed at Amstel. If they let BMC dictate the race, it'll come down to Kwiatkowski's legs, but if they can make BMC work, he's got a better chance. Plus, Liége should suit him more than Flèche did.
Goal: Take the way back machine to 2006 or 2008 so Valverde can win Liége again
So Far: 4th at Amstel and a win at Flèche, both by Valverde
Prospects: The last time Valverde won Flèche was in 2006, which is when he doubled up with Liége. If you like precedents, that's a pretty good one. Dude looks strong, and just as cagey as ever. Maybe too cagey, because he wouldn't work with Gerrans and Kwiatkowski to bring Gilbert back into the fold after the Cauberg on Sunday, and he didn't even win the sprint out of that group. Or mark Jelle Vanendert when he came flying through them. Whoops.
Goal: With more depth than last year, anything under a win is a disappointment
So Far: Not much in Amstel (Wegman was 14th), but they pulled out 2nd and 5th at Flèche thanks to Dan Martin and Tom Jelte Slagter
Prospects: I was worried when Dan Martin abandoned Amstel, and more when Slagter and Haas amounted to little in the finale. But oh how tides can turn in a few days. Martin looked great on Wednesday when he charged up the Mur and improved on his 4th place from last year. So, his legs are looking pretty good for Sunday, and it looks like Slagter is coming good at just the right time too. The duo ought to make for a fine one-two punch, should they decide to get aggressive. And knowing Garmin, they will. My bet is they win Liége or come in 5th. Not much in between.
Goal: Win? Podiums will probably make them happy though.
So Far: Gerrans was 3rd in Amstel. Albasini got his customary top ten in Flèche (7th this year)
Prospects: Gerrans looks strong, just not as strong as Gilbert. But he could very well out-sprint him if it comes down to that. Aside from him, Albasini looks very good and GreenEDGE haven't been shy at all about taking control of the race when it matters. Team is looking like a well-oiled machine.
Goal: Hmm. Keep the headlines away from Gesink?
So Far: 7th in Amstel, 4th in Flèche.
Prospects: They definitely miss Gesink, but Mollema's legs are looking pretty good. If you like trends, it looks like he'll win on Sunday, numerically speaking. But I bet he finishes 6th.
7. Lotto Belisol
Goal: Rediscover relevancy? Take media focus off Greipel?
Prospects: Jelle Vanendert is back, y'all. He's not the strongest, but he's in the top ten and that's good enough for me. Too bad Jurgeon Van Den Broeck is still playing it quiet and who knows what's up with Gallopin. Really, what's up with him? He looked so good at Brabantse Pijl last week...
Goal: Get someone up the road sometime and hope for the best?
So Far: Gasporatto was 8th in Amstel. Which is something, I guess.
Prospects: Well, they got Fuglsang up the road in the late break at Amstel, but hoping for the best didn't work. And Nibali was last seen hanging around the back of the group of favorites in the middle of the Mur yesterday. So they're trying? Still, expect Nibali to go for broke on Sunday. At least his support looks good.
Goal: How many times can I say "win" without it becoming absurd? They've won Flèche the past two years counting, and Rodríguez came oh so close to winning Liége last year. Anything but a victory will be a disappointment.
So Far: Moreno has a lock on getting 9th this week, but that's about it.
Prospects: Rodríguez's knee is suspect after a crash in Amstel, and it's not clear Moreno is at the level needed to compensate. But a week is a long time, so Purito's knee could still come good for Liége. But, it still wasn't a good sign to see both of them in superb position on the bottom ramps of the Mur de Huy yesterday and do nothing but go backwards.
10. Trek Factory Team
Goal: Schleck Redemption. Really, even TV time at the front in the last hour might be enough.
So Far: Andy's knee is making him withdraw from races and the only TV time they got was Fränk getting caught behind a crash at 3km to go in Flèche
Prospects: Well, Julien Arredondo looked pretty great in Flèche, only having his legs shut down in the last 200m or so and still finishing 11th. Not bad for his first go at the race, and especially not bad for only flying back from Colombia on Tuesday. Which brings me to: why the heck did they only fly him back on Tuesday? Dude is perfect for the Ardennes, is young, and at the least could've been a solid teammate for Fränk and Andy if not a co-leader.
So Far: Kreuziger was 8th at Flèche...
Prospects: If Contador were racing, things would be mightily exciting. I'll keep saying that. Without him, Kreuziger just isn't strong enough. He'll have to go on the offensive early in Liége if he wants to do anything. Otherwise, it's pretty quiet around these parts..
12. Ag2R La Mondiale
Goal: Get Betancur higher up the top ten than last year
So Far: *crickets*
Prospects: Well, they won the "attack that happens way too early on the Mur de Huy" award again, and did help lead the charge into the base of the climb. But this year, they got a lot less from that effort than they did last year. Betancur isn't looking good, guys. He's been sick in the past weeks, apparently, and it's definitely showing. Romain Bardet has a lock on 33rd-35th place, but that's as good as the results get.
Prospects: Is Cunego done crashing out of the finales of these races? Or will it be third time's the charm come Sunday? No way to tell where his fitness is, and all I know of Costa is he seems to be playing the teammate role.