Liege Bastogne Liege. Contenders and pretenders.
Philippe Gilbert’s form is somewhere between 90 and 100%. Given his talent, that may be enough to take his second Liege-Bastogne-Liege in a row. But as he’s said, he’ll have to ride as much with the head as the legs.
This is such a tough race and given his form in Flèche Wallone, you almost have to put him on the podium. But where exactly? Twisted Spoke is finding it hard to give him the win but then we find it even harder to give it to anyone else besides the on-fire Joaquim Rodriguez.
That bring us to the Spanish pocket rocket who finally won Flèche Wallonne. As we saw last year with Gilbert, confidence can take amazing form even higher. Gilbert went into races knowing he was almost sure to win. That’s the case for Rodriguez — after so many second places he has finally broken through and his confidence is now creating even more momentum. We can’t see him not making the podium.
Although tipped as a possible favorite, nobody has a clear indication of Alejandro (Nothing Wrong) Valverde’s form since he’s coming back from injury. Factor in his long doping induced lay-off and the picture becomes even cloudier. There’s no questioning his talent and tactical abilities — it’s just, is he really ready to handle 4,000 vertical metres of climbing? We’re thinking not.
Samuel Sanchez however is a different case. The man in orange has been very strong so far this season. Seventh in Amstel and first overall in the Tour of the Basque country. He seems to handle pressure and expectations well. The little guy won the King of the Mountains jersey in the 2011 Tour de France and we expect to see him up front.
The Brothers Schleck. Well, nobody expects a repeat of last year’s L-B-L with the two Luxembourgers escorting Gilbert into Ans for the win. Andy is still behind schedule despite the more demanding presence of Johan Bruyneel. There’s no question that Frank will be in the mix but we’re strangely unexcited about his prospects. He was riding better when he had those stylist Leopard scarves.
Some pundits have Roman Kreuziger down for a shot and we’re not saying no, we’re just not shouting up and down with enthusiasm. On the other hand we could definitely see Thomas Voeckler in the top five and maybe the podium. After his amazing performances in the 2011 Tour, he seems to have raised his level yet again. He’s lean and riding with aggression.
Our dark horse would be Garmin-Barracuda’s Dan Martin and BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen. Jonathan Vaughters keeps tipping Martin for a major result and he’s expected to make his Tour de France debut this year. It’s about time he came through with something to excite the argyle army.
Van Garderen has also been threatening big things and Sunday would be a good time to close the deal. He can ride under the radar, relatively unmarked and then stick the knife in. It’s the Devolder effect. We consider this kid the real deal and he has an amazing level of confidence for his age. We would not be surprised to see him on the podium.
Final podium: 1st Samuel Sanchez, 2nd Joaquim Rodriguez, 3rd Philippe Gilbert, 4th Dan Martin, Tejay Van Garderen 5th