Last lap. Rubes has a pretty insurmountable lead, although a clean sweep by one of his pursuers... still won't catch him, because his closest pursuers have picked the same people. Feh! I am sticking with two of my picks in the hopes that someday they will be right. Also I've been traveling all week and have no clue what's going on. Lots of competition for the final two spots... hang in there!
Liege Bastogne Liege
|Edredon Browny||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||Robert Gesink||6||30|
|Millsy 89||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||Andy Schleck||10||33|
|KOM Vuelta||Philippe Gilbert||Vino||J-Rod||6||18|
|Rubesandbabes||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||Damiano Cunego||6||42|
|JSallee||Ryder Hesjedal||Paul Martens||Alexandr Kolobnev||0||13|
|Popup Rolen||Alexandr Kolobnev||Ben Hermans||Luis Leon Sanchez||0||19|
|FrenchKheldar||Andy Schleck||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||2||23|
|Margin Walker||Vincenzo Nibali||J-Rod||Philippe Gilbert||1||9|
|Dan Beringhele||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||Ryder Hesjedal||6||20|
|Stevie Dexter||Philippe Gilbert||J-Rod||Vino||6||31|
|Gavia||Damiano Cunego||J-Rod||Frank Schleck||1||11|
|Chris F||Damiano Cunego||Robert Gesink||J-Rod||0||8|
The Boy Who Would be King
Sunday will draw the curtain on the greatest month of the cycling calendar but not before we are witness to the biggest date with destiny in a generation, the 97th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Only one man can treat the fans to such an occasion, and coming into this Spring campaign Philippe Gilbert had proven he could win almost anytime and practically anywhere. As of the last trip up the Mur de Huy on Wednesday, he's now shown he can win anytime, anywhere. The question now: can he win a fourth time in just twelve days?
One of the five Monuments of cycling and the oldest of the Classics, La Doyenne is the third* and final installment of hilly races run through the Ardennes. Arguably the most prestigious one day race on the modern calendar; the history of this race spans three different centuries. The race is very old and very tough. As Gavia told us, the race dates from "...1892, when men were men and bike races were very very long." Over all these years the contest has taken various forms from professional to amateur to pro-am. There is no doubt which version we are in store for this week. The professionals will come ready to do work.
The relatively easier run from Liege down to train station at Bastogne will set the stage for the much tougher return trip to the northern Liege suburb of Ans, racing over the roads of Gilbert's childhood, and taking in a climb at every turn. Finishing one hill just to begin another. The race will cover over 150 miles or what the enlightened world calls 255.5 km. At least that's the distance ASO reports on the race website. Only the riders will know for sure come Sunday.
I read a good Gilbert quote after his win on the Mur. "I got myself a good lead and that broke the morale of my rivals." Surely an excellent strategy and one that he has previously used to perfection. He got a "good lead" in the 2006 Omloop attacking from 20k out, bridging to the leaders and then soloing the last 10k to victory, a ride that certainly earned him the designation should be taken seriously. At the 2008 Omloop he updated that designation to must be taken VERY seriously taking another "good lead" with an audacious and ultimately successful solo move with nearly 50k left to race. His back to back wins at Paris Tours, followed by two consecutive Lombardia trophies proved he is a real champion, somebody who knows how to show up ready to play on game day. He looks stronger than anyone else right now, which is something we were saying about Cancellara just a few weeks ago. Can Gilbert stand up to the pressure in a way that Cancellara could not? On Wednesday, after Gilbert's win at Fleche Wallonne, @autofact surmised that Gilbert was better suited to this task.
Cancellara dealt with the pressure of being favorite by trying to play head games in the press. He let it get to him & affect his riding. Gilbert is showing how a real champion handles pressure. His legs are superb, but his mental fortitude is absolutely incredible.
I would never doubt Gilbert. And for the record I never did. But two things will prevent me from naming him as my pick to win. First (and most importantly), personal history tells me that as soon as I pick him as my favorite I will doom him to misfortune. It happens every time. Secondly, for any hope of climbing out of last place I need a unique strategy. So my pick will be an outsider, intended to be the long shot. Gilbert graces my podium, but he is there to show my respect for his class and to gain me a single point when he takes the win instead of the third step I have assigned to him. My second podium step: Gilbert's strongest rival all week and a solid bet to once again be runner-up, J-Rod. And for the win, my outsider, none other than Vincenzo Nibali himself.
Flags are waiving. Let's have a clean race. And may the best rider win.
*If we include the region of Flemish Brabant, then there are four important hilly races in this category. Thanks to Brecht Decaluwé, I am now aware of the fact that Gilbert is poised to do the Quadruple, and not that lame Triple that some other guy managed.