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Closing the Classics Power Polls: Ardennes Final

Powerpoll_mediumNot in the mood to talk about CERA? Can't get into prologues? Don't know most of the racers in Asturias? Then maybe you'd like to join me for one last walk down Ardennes Classics Power Poll Memory Lane...

1. Saxo Bank (prev: 2)

What I said:

...if the Saxo boys look itchy starting about 30km from the finish, it's because they are....Strategy: Attack attack attack. A great break puts maybe Andy or Kolobnev up the road with some B-listers and forces the heads of state to choose between staring at each other and having to engage in a leg-sapping chase.

If you weren't convinced by their tactics in Amstel or La Flèche, surely by Liège you got the point? Riis' troops were chomping at the bit all week, after a fitful spring, and tuning up Kolobnev gave them four legitimate threats: two Schlecks, the Russian, and Karsten Kroon. The haul included a podium at each race, two seconds and a win, plus a sixth, ninth and tenth. And that's before we subtract Rebellin's results. Anyway, they were aggressive and merciless Sunday. Sexy Back is just that: back.

The rest... on the flip!

2. Katusha (prev: n/r!)

What I said:

[cricket noises]

D'oh! It takes a big man to admit that he dropped the ball, so I'm not going to do that. Still, sleeping on Serguei Ivanov at Amstel... I suppose there's a reason I am a DS in merely the virtual sense. Christian Pfannberger arrived on form just in time as well, coming off an otherwise quiet spring, save for a nice result at the Big Mig. Anyway, Pfannberger got in a few body blows, but it was Ivanov who delivered the haymakers: a winner at AGR, 13th at La Fleche, and fifth at Liege... all done with aggressive riding.

3. Lampre (prev: 4)

What I said:

Strategy: Patience... but not too much patience. If the race slims down at the end, it might be worth having Cunego race aggressively. If it comes to a sprint, well, there's a chance.

And so there was. Apart from AGR, Cunego didn't miss the moves... he just couldn't go with Schleck Sunday, and couldn't get past Rebellin on the Mur. Gasparotto did his pulls, and Mori and Gavazzi were around to help. I can't really fault them, even if one measly podium is a light haul. 

4. Rabobank (prev: 8)

What I said:

Maybe they should just focus on protecting Gesink and hope for a top-five finish.

And so they did, the one race where they were able to. Gesink's knee injury derailed the plans for Wednesday, but they got their man in place on the Cauberg. Among Rabo's priorities, this has to be top three, along with Menchov winning the Vuelta and generally staying out of court. There were some ominous notes in the CN agate about Rabo dumping salary and turning things over to the kids for next year... on second thought, this might be the coolest thing I've heard in a while. Free Terpstra!

5. Silence-Lotto (prev: 5)

What I said:

But to me Cadel seems like his confidence is growing in his older age (32), and beating Cunego in a Coppi e Bartali stage only adds to it. Anyway, he won't win in a last-km argy-bargy, but late selections will help him. Gilbert, meanwhile, could maybe, maybe eek out a sprint win if Amstel finishes in a bunch.

Hm, we're a long way from the top poll spot now... Silence raced pretty well as a team all week, even if you couldn't tell from the results or the post-race recriminations. They hauled back some breaks before the Mur, and didn't exactly miss out on anything important save for the winning Amstel effort. Gilbert singlehandedly animated the team with his aggression. But Cadel's decisionmaking on the Mur doesn't seem to have improved much over the last year. Ah well...

6. Caisse d'Epargne (prev: 1)

What I said:

 I hope they send Rodriguez up the road with guys like the Schlecks and LET HIM ATTACK. With Valverde following the response (if there is one), Caisse d'Epargne will bring these races to their knees.

After two lackluster days, this is pretty much what Unzue unleashed in Liege. By then, however, Valverde was no longer the main weapon, just another guy sitting in the wheels, and Rodriguez' second place in La Doyenne was just a team face-saver.

7. Euskaltel (prev: 10)

What I said:

Sammy is too well known to saunter away, but he has a shot in a bunch sprint.

Well, he outsprinted Cadel for fourth in La Fleche. Sammy had a solid week, did his job, but wasn't overly conspicuous.

8. Liquigas (prev: 9)

What I said:

Nibali has been great this year, very aggressive and active in his starts. These events might be beyond his reach, but he can make trouble. Kreuziger is a budding star, though his one-day resume is under construction.

Kreuziger and Nibali both tried getting away as the races heated up, though to little avail. Basso was predictably invisible Sunday. I suppose that's all you can hope for in an elite field and on courses where you ain't got the horses. Kreuziger may have a future in these hard one-day events, but it's too soon to say.

9. Columbia (prev: 6)

What I said:

Aggression. This is no time for Columbia to start acting like they have anything to lose. Pinotti's solo win last week should be a great confidence-builder for the attacking strategy.

They were pretty inconspicuous both Sundays, though they earned something more than an F with decent work at La Fleche. THR helped Silence pull it together, and got both Lovkvist and Albasini launched on the Mur, for two top-10 spots. Still makes me concerned they are a one-trick pony, pulling back breaks so they can try their luck in a bunch finish. But it could be worse.

INC. Serramenti Dquigiovanni (prev: 3)

What I said:

who cares.

I don't have anything nice to say about them at the moment. Rebellin's results are not worth discussion anymore.