[editor's note, by chris] Reposted from below... this is the day's big story, after all.
I declare Friday Liege Day here at the Podium Cafe, possibly to the exclusion of all other issues, unless something big happens. La Doyenne is two days away, and the battles at Amstel and La Fleche have set this up to be one of the races of the year. Without further ado...
Davide Rebellin. This week he hasn't missed an important break, and won both sprints with ease, albeit one for second. Anyway, he looks just great, and if he doesn't get worn down before the last couple climbs Sunday, he'll flash that closing speed one more time.
The Other Favorites
- Alejandro Valverde... the defending champ has been hovering around the front, but hasn't had the will or the way to close it out. But if he makes it to the last km without wasting energy, he's probably faster than Rebellin and everyone else.
- Alexandre Vinokourov is another ex-winner who could be heard from, but Astana has Andrey Kashechkin and a frisky Matti Kessler too.
- Paolo Bettini... yet another ex-winner (2002). We know he wants to win here, and was second last year. Personally I haven't been impressed with him lately, but he will be ready Sunday.
- Damiano Cunego... the Kid makes his only Classics appearance. I've carried on before about his skills being perfect for this race, including his speed at the line. Third last year backs it up. But with Basso probably out of the Giro, Cunego can be forgiven for thinking ahead.
- Danilo DiLuca... the strongest rider Wednesday. But he's burned more matches this week than his rivals, so I wouldn't make him the fave. Nor would I be shocked if he rode everyone off his wheel and won.
Best of the Rest
Sammy Sanchez was a major protagonist all year last year, and though he's yet to be heard from this April, he's got podium skills. More of a dark horse again though. Disco will try to get either Yaroslav Popovych or, failing that, Alberto Contador into the mix. Contador has shown his brilliance, and eventually could contend here. Sylvain Chavanel will be hanging around in the finale, though I wouldn't bet a rock on him winning. Cadel Evans hasn't shown a feel for the Classics, but his form should be good. Michael Boogerd will get attention and hang around, like always. Ricardo Ricco was ninth Sunday and fifth Wednesday, although he did little more than follow along. But he's got the form to win. Same goes for Kim Kirchen... Karsten Kroon... Frank Schleck... but they're longshots. And my super-dark-horse is Xavier Florencio, 18th at La Fleche!
Picks?? I'm sticking with Tintin.