This is always fun. And a good reminder of how seriously you should take my predictions (Girbecco says: "not seriously!"). Excerpts from my predictions in quote...
1. Damiano Cunego, Lampre
there's a recent streak of LBL podium finishers who started slowly at Amstel and peaked by the time they got to Ans, and to me Cunego looks like he's headed in the right direction. Not a strong favorite call
Well, that last sentence was about right. Monuments, like the Tour, are often pretty simple to explain: the guy who finished seventh wasn't strong enough to finish first. You can criticize Cunego for hiding out, but by his account he tried to follow Schleck, and couldn't. This begs the question: why can he win the Giro di Lombardia like clockwork and not Liège-Bastogne-Liège? But that is the subject of another post.
2. Davide Rebellin, Serramenti blahblahblah
One win, two seconds in Ans... is there anyone else who's a mortal lock for a top-five besides Rebellin? The guy is always, ALWAYS around the front of the race in the Ardennes.
And there he was again, successfully outmaneuvering the heads of state to the line... for third. Not following Rodriguez was probably a mistake rather than exhaustion, given his finishing kick. But he was well within his guaranteed Top Five.
3. Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d'Epargne
Um, my point about guys coming around during Ardennes week? Valverde was 21st in Amstel and seventh in La Fleche... Still, he's seemed pretty invisible, so there's a chance he's not playing possum.
Trying to analyze Valverde's mental state is impossible at this point. He did sit in the wheels of the main chase group, but lacked aggression and tried nothing at the end. Is he bored when he can't win?
4. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank
there's almost no way he isn't on the pointy end of this race when they reach Ans. But to close it out he will have to outmuscle some combination of faster finishers, unless he can escape prematurely. Anywhere in the top ten is a realistic possibility for Schleck the Faster, but top three will take some doing.
Well, I'd say my prediction was a little too uncommitted to take any real credit here, but I'm not unhappy with it. Did other websites pre-announce his coronation? Nope. I'm pretty sure CycleGirl is the only person on record as having picked him to win.
5. Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto
You could make a convincing argument that he was the strongest guy on Wednesday. This sort of thing doesn't help you win on the Mur, if you've got a wispy climber on your wheel, but it most certainly does matter in LBL.
Like sand through the hourglass, so goes the Silence-Lotto team. By which I mean, this is a soap opera on wheels. Philippe Gilbert seems to be making his case for control of the team, at least in parts of April, with a devastating attack that almost made the race, followed by a pretty respectable post-breakaway sprint for fourth. Gilbert is getting better each year, and brings the kind of aggression that Belgian fans love. A subtle reminder to his management not to forget they are a Belgian team, in Belgium, and might want to race these races the way they were intended. Anyway, look for further Cadel-related analysis in my forthcoming post, "Fifteen Dream Transfers".
6. Robert Gesink, Rabobank
no sentient being would send a talent like Gesink out to ride LBL with a hurt knee. Right?
Not quite up to snuff. Rabo haven't gotten many breaks lately, and Gesink's knee scare is just the latest. I'll look to Lopex and Frinking for any reactions about how his precious knee held up.
7. Serguei Ivanov, Katusha
The hottest hand in the peloton right now -- little dude's been everywhere. But ... there is a similar inverse history to the guys peaking at Ans, that is guys peaking at Amstel and blowing up in Liege.
The little guy still had it yesterday. Only his lack of sprint kept him from another podium, and his aggression was memorable. Even to me, with my crappy memory, so that's saying something. If there's a Rider of the Week award, he gets it, hands down.
8. Thomas Lovkvist, Columbia
To me, in the classics Lovkvist is a poor-man's Andy Schleck, by which I mean he's not as glitzy and accomplished but otherwise very similar in ability (right Jens?). A longshot to actually win, but if Columbia get their tactics right he's highly likely to find himself in that crucial position, at the end of the race, where anything can happen.
Moving right along... [Note to self: don't compare anyone to Andy Schleck for a while. Not even Frank.]
9. Christian Pfannberger, Katusha
It'd be interesting to see if he and Ivanov can mess around with the favorites at LBL. This is a much more strategic race than La Fleche -- it's far harder, and there are numerous places to attack in the last 15km or so, with no Mur looming to thwart you.
Missed the key split. Apparently inexperience is a bad thing after all.
10. Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel
I'm all for him winning, but if you think of where he's had his best days (Beijing, San Sebastian, certain Vuelta stages), they're all noticeably less grueling events than LBL.
Well, he was no weaker at the finish than Rebellin, Valverde, Cunego, etc. He also tried to bridge, but I refuse to fault any individual rider for being unable to track down the Schleck derny. In fairness, LBL is within his range, but like any monument the pathway to victory is elusive.
11. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas
I probably shouldn't rank him even this high, as he seems to be in attack-til-you-blow-a-gasket mode... something that won't work Sunday. Hell, he may not even be the team captain
A good example of classics vs. monuments. His trademark aggression from earlier in the week wasn't destined to work well on the much harder slopes of this race. Fell just out of the big group.
12. Linus Gerdemann, Milram
Well, he can climb. And he's the captain of one of the bigger (if sillier-looking) teams. The race suits him fine, given his showings in some very hard races. But the lack of race days this year, and his being a rookie at LBL, makes me think he won't get the last moo.
God love him, he tried. Nice to show that silly jersey on La Redoute, but he succeeded in proving that this isn't a good event for him. See you in July, we hope.
13. Clément Lhotellerie, Vacansoleil
Just a kid, all of 23, so this is a wildcard pick.
Ya think? 57th, for the record.
14. Simon Gerrans, Cervelo Test Team
Gerrans has struggled on this course more than the previous two events, so his pair of top-tens this week might not say everything you need to know. But top 15 sounds quite plausible.
Indeed it does! Gerrans made the final scrum, and bested my optimism in the sprint for sixth. Respect. Still, this isn't my best prediction...
15. Rinaldo Nocentini, AG2R
The man always gets his points.
Booyah! Did any other website call Nocentini's 15th place? Did any other website call anyone for 15th place? I don't think so. And now, I will do a victory dance...