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Bardet celebrates first-ever Monument podium at Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) has always called Liège-Bastogne-Liège his favourite one-day race on the calendar, and on Sunday the Frenchman could finally bring home a podium result in the Classic he likes the most.

Bardet has had a string of top-20 finishes at Liège; 6th in 2017, 13th in 2016, 6th in 2015, 10th in 2014, and 13th in his first participation back 2013. And he has long been something of an outside favourite in La Doyenne, even though he has never managed to break into the top five, let alone the top three.

This year, however, something clicked into place. Bardet’s 9th place in La Flèche Wallonne seemed like a reliable sign of good form. Bardet’s well-timed attack, coming late and at a point when many of the top names were either fast approaching burn-out or had already played their cards, placed him into a strong position for the finale.

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With only Michael Woods (EF Education First – Drapac), a rider willing to collaborate fully and for whom a podium placing represented a major achievement as well, for company, the duo reeled back Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal). They then stayed away from the counter-attackers in the main group of chasers. Woods finally took second, outsprinting Bardet, who claimed third.

“I have a great deal of admiration for this race. I really like it, and I have no regrets about how I raced,” said Bardet – who managed to hold off Flèche Wallonne winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in the final.

“I raced well, I think, more intelligently than other years, but there was a great Bob Jungels ahead of me. In any case, in 2018, I’m getting closer to the podium. And it proves I’m not just limited to racing as a climber.”

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Valverde cramps up in the final at Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) once again had to admit defeat after cramping up in the final of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, after already losing Flèche Wallonne just days earlier. And for the second time this week, the Spaniard managed to put on a brave face despite his latest setback.

He finished 13th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège having dropped out of the main group of top contenders. He initially weaved his way through the crowds at the finish to the Movistar team bus without talking to reporters.

He quickly clambered on board and headed for a shower – but not before receiving a quick hug of commiseration for his defeat from team manager Eusebio Unzue. Losing Flèche Wallonne must have been tough to take. But failing to draw equal with Eddy Merckx’s record of five wins in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the race Valverde says he likes the most in the calendar, must have been an even harder pill to swallow.

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Talking later to his team website, Valverde recognised that he had not been on the top of this game in the final, where he had chased down some attacks, but could not regain control of the situation as he wanted.

“I don’t know if it was as a result of the heat and humidity. I was fine when the race was going at a normal pace, but when I wanted to give it everything, I couldn’t push as hard on the pedals as I’d have liked.” Valverde, who suffered from cramps in the finale, said afterwards.

“If I’d been going well, I think I would have been stronger than the rest of the group, but I couldn’t give anymore, and when I saw I had no options, I just eased back and rolled into the finish.

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Jungels follows Andy Schleck’s wheel tracks for victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege

History repeated itself in the best way possible for Bob Jungels on Sunday as the Quick-Step Floors racer netted Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It was his first Monument victory, but in an almost identical fashion to Luxembourg’s previous win in La Doyenne with Andy Schleck nine years ago.

In one of Liège-Bastogne-Liège’s most exciting finales in years, Jungels stormed away over the top of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, the same climb where Schleck launched his winning, lone attack, nine years ago, 19 kilometres from the finish.

Clad in the Luxemburg’s national champion’s jersey, Jungels slowly but steadily carved out a winning margin that reached nearly a minute at one point. The advantage sagged dramatically to a third of that on the Cote de Saint-Nicolas, but then expanded again on the long draggy ascent to Ans, and which allowed him to celebrate his first-ever Monument win.

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“I’m a bit tired, and feeling very emotional and very proud about having won this Doyenne for the team,” Jungels said afterwards. “Being so close to Luxembourg is something special too.

“Yes, it was an early attack, but I think I wouldn’t have had such a good chance in a sprint against [Alejandro] Valverde. There were other, faster guys there too in the main group. So I used my time trialling skills to make it to the finish.”

His success with a long-range attack was, he said, yet more proof that a lot of races have been won and lost this year by not waiting until the final kilometres. “We saw it again on Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, where a lot of teams came under pressure by our making the race hard from a certain point onwards” – as Quick Step did in Liège, too, with Philippe Gilbert on the Redoute and again on the Roche aux Faucons.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Woods: This is the best result I’ve ever had in my life

Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) clinched a breakthrough result in Liège-Bastogne-Liège by taking his first ever podium in a Monument Classic, a performance which bodes well for the future.

After turning professional at 29, the Canadian has faced a steep learning curve to catch up with his rivals. But at the finale in Ans, Woods proved that he was more than capable of taking on some of the top Classics racers of his generation as he etched out a remarkable second place at La Doyenne.

Already very active in the closing kilometres, Woods darted onto Romain Bardet’s wheel as soon as the Frenchman moved away after the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. The two caught and passed Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) when they reached the crest of the Ans climb, having combined well on the run-in.

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“We worked well together,” Woods later told Cyclingnews. “We talked a bit, Bardet was like ‘allez, allez’, and that was inspiring because he’s a guy who’s podiumed on the Tour. He’s a courageous rider. He definitely got me going and made me believe we’d stay away.

“We went pull for pull until about 500 metres to go, then Bardet pulled through super hard and tried to drop me, but I knew then that if it came down to the sprint, I’d have a shot. So I took his wheel and sprinted for the line.”

Woods was, he agreed, still pinching himself at the result to believe that it could all come together so well: “Certainly, this is a cool moment.”

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Dan Martin rues bad luck with a late puncture in Liege-Bastogne-Liege

A late front wheel puncture wrecked Dan Martin‘s chances in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, just when the UAE Team Emirates racer was in the thick of the race action and with only eight kilometres left to go. All this in the first Ardennes Classics where he felt he was back at a top racing level, too.

“You couldn’t make it up,” Martin told Cyclingnews with a wry smile as he warmed down outside the team bus. “In fact, the way this year’s gone in general you couldn’t make it up.”

Martin had been on the attack with Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), and at the point where he punctured, there were only 15 riders left in the front group. It was another round of bad luck for the Irishman in a race where he has taken one of his most significant victories, in 2013, but also where he crashed on the final corner in 2014 when the win was within his grasp.

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Fast forward another four years, and another round of bad luck dashed Martin’s chances – and this after UAE Team Emirates had ridden very hard in the early part of the race, keeping the bunch in contention.

“In some ways, I’m happy because I was riding well again and the team did an incredible job, we’re one of the best teams in the world and today we rode like it.”

[Rory] Sutherland had raced notably well in the middle section of the race, he agreed, “and Matteo Bono, in the first part as well, the whole team…

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Pitel poised for possible podium finish at Tour of the Gila

Edwige Pitel has very little left to prove on a bicycle. The 50-year-old Frenchwoman is a two-time French road champion in 2007 and 2016 and has won her national time trial title three times. She won the Tour de Bretagne in 2003 and the Tour Feminine en Limousin in 2005. The all-rounder with a time trial pedigree has also taken three wins at the Chrono des Herbier in 2001, 2004 and 2005.

Pitel has a palmares any rider would be proud of and could retire with distinction, but she simply loves racing and shows no signs of slowing down this week at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, where she is currently fourth overall and poised to make a run at the general classification podium during Sunday’s challenging Gila Monster stage and its 1,710 metres of climbing.

Pitel raced previously in the United States in 2009 at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic in Oregon, where she topped a pro women’s field that included ValuAct’s Leah Goldstein, beating Goldstein by 11 seconds to take the overall.

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“Well, actually, that was the memory from 2009, and I always wanted to do some more races like that in the States, but when you come from Europe you don’t want to come for just one race,” Pitel told Cyclingnews after Saturday’s downtown criterium in Silver City.

“You need to find a bunch of races, and I found I could come do Joe Martin, Gila and Redlands in a row, so that’s a good one to do. So I came over for six weeks to do the races I’ve never done before.”

Pitel, who has a PhD in mathematical sciences from Imperial College London, didn’t start racing until she was 37, but she says after 14 or 15 years of racing many of the same events year after year, she was looking to try something new.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Dumoulin tunes up for Giro d’Italia at Liege-Bastogne-Liege

As he builds towards the Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) has returned to Liège-Bastogne-Liège for what is a last test of race condition prior to the first main goal of his season, which gets underway in Israel on May 4.

Talking to journalists on Saturday afternoon, Dumoulin seemed laid back and cheerful, as well as looking in good shape. But given that his last race was at Milano-San Remo, in which he finished 31st, Dumoulin was understandably non-committal about his chances in a race as demanding as Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Although determined to do his best on Sunday and shine if he has a chance, the Dutch racer, who hails from nearby Maastricht, is far from being the first Grand Tour specialist to be parachuted into the Ardennes as at least a partial test of his form prior to the summer. Recent participations by Chris Froome (Team Sky) in Liege in 2013 and 2016, and in Fleche Wallonne in 2015 are a case in point.

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But in Dumoulin’s case, Liège-Bastogne-Liège comes less than two weeks before the Giro start in Israel, rather than Froome’s much longer-term goals in the Tour de France in previous years. As a result, the Dutchman’s ride on Sunday will come under closer scrutiny.

“I’m feeling good, but I only had altitude camp, I haven’t had any real confirmation of my condition,” said Dumoulin, whose best result to date in his five Liege performances was 22nd last year. “But I’m feeling happy and ready and I’m really looking forward to racing.

“This is one of the nicest races in the calendar, the whole week with Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege is one I really like, a week that’s very special to me and it’s just unfortunate I couldn’t do it all because of altitude camp.”

Given the usual degree of uncertainty about whether his good form in training will be reflected when he starts turning the pedals in anger, Dumoulin will have a free role in the team on Sunday.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Creed finds his niche at Aevolo

Michael Creed has found his happy place. The 37-year-old former pro jumped straight from racing into directing the SmartStop team in 2014, but when the Continental team imploded under a cloud of financial mismanagement during the 2015 season, it took a big chunk of him with it. Creed rebounded with a well-paying head coaching job on the US Olympic Committee’s Paralympic cycling team, but deep down his heart was always in professional road racing.

Now he’s found a unique opportunity to build a program from the ground up with the Aevolo development team, a second-year U23 program whose primary mission is to develop well-rounded young men who occasionally win bike races.

Creed was still with the USOC when the team owner approached him about leading his new project. The owner made several offers to Creed and even flew from New York to Manitou Springs to recruit him, but with the bad memories from SmartStop’s end still on his mind, Creed politely declined.

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The owner was persistent, however, using “buzz words” that eventually attracted Creed.

“He said things like small, development and long-term realistic goals,” Creed told Cyclingnews this week In New Mexico, where Aevolo is competing in the five-day, UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila.

The management’s vision didn’t include aiming for the WorldTour or other grand ideas; they simply wanted to fill a gap they saw in the development of young cyclists.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Van Vleuten, Spratt set to animate Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Mitchelton-Scott are aiming to close out their Ardennes Classics campaign with a victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. Their best chances at victory are with time trial world champion Annemiek Van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, who have both featured strongly in the two previous events Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne.

“I feel good going into Liège; the course suits me a little bit better than Flèche Wallonne and with Spratty being in such amazing form – which she showed again on Wednesday, which gives us a lot of confidence to go together in the final,” Van Vleuten said.

“We did a solid recon of the route, and I really like this final and am very focused on Sunday, it’s the last of the spring Classics, and I can’t believe that it’s over already.”

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which starts in Bastogne and finishes in Ans, is unchanged from last year’s inaugural route at 136 kilometres. The first half of the race is undulating, followed by four significant climbs: the Côte de la Vecquée, La Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons, and Saint-Nicolas, and then the last 1.5km to the finish line is 5% in Ans.

Mitchelton-Scott have had some success in the first two events with Spratt taking third place after being in the day’s winning breakaway at Amstel Gold. She again animated the race at Flèche Wallonne, where she was in the decisive move of four riders, but they were caught at the base of the Mur de Huy with roughly one kilometre to go. She hung on for fifth place,

Van Vleuten crashed at Tour of Flanders and dislocated her shoulder but managed to finished third, just before the Ardennes Classics. She has been racing with a sore shoulder through Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, where she crashed again but finished fourth on the Mur de Huy.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Matthews back in contention after injury-blighted spring

A morale-boosting fifth place for Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) in La Flèche Wallonne has confirmed to the Australian that after an injury-blighted spring, he is starting to get back on track.

And given he finished fourth last year in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it could well be in the nick of time.

“There was no pressure on me to deliver that sort of result [at Flèche] and I just wanted to see what I could do. It was quite a good race,” Matthews told reporters at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège team presentation on Saturday.

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“I still couldn’t even breathe properly afterwards, I got a super sore throat, there was a lot of pollen in the air and my eyes were really itchy. But I was really happy with my race, the team gave me really good support and it was great to be able to see what I could do on that kind of climb.”

Matthews fractured his left shoulder during his first race of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. And although he’s taken part in several Classics since then, finishing a stand-out seventh in Milan-San Remo, it’s fair to say he’s been playing catch up for most of the spring. Now, it seems, he’s finally on a level playing field with the rest of the field.

“I’ve been working a lot with my osteo this week in Maastricht and he’s really got me back in some sort of shape where I can try and contest in a race,” Matthews commented.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com