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After winning Flche Wallonne on Wednesday, shooting star Alejandro Valverde expressed some scepticism ahead of Lige-Bastogne-Lige because it was 60 kilometres longer. But the Spaniard only needed one attempt to prove himself wrong. In another uphill sprint finish fought out between a group of pre-race favourites, Valverde was once again the fastest, this time beating Paolo Bettini and Damiano Cunego and at the same time recording the first Spanish victory ever in the oldest Classic.
"It's very special to win Lige-Bastogne-Lige, also because it's important for Spanish cycling, and there are no words that can express how I feel," said Valverde, aka 'El Invencido', the invincible one - a nickname he got as a child because he won practically everything between the ages of 10 and 13.
This week it seems he's taken up that practice again, maybe because he started 'La Doyenne' on Sunday without any pressure following victory in Flche. Valverde also admitted that he was privileged during the finale of the race. With team-mate Joaquin Rodriguez in a breakaway with Michael Boogerd from the top of Cote de Sprimont (29km from the finish) until they were caught with about six kilometres to go, he didn't have to work.
"That also made the last kilometre easy for me. On the last bend I only had to pass Patrick Sinkewitz," said the nippy Spaniard of his last effort up the Rue Jean Jaurs.
Knowing his sprinting qualities, he admitted he felt relatively confident in the group of about 15 riders who decided the race between them. "I knew I was one of the fastest. But Bettini and Perdiguero are also fast, so I didn't believe in anything until I had crossed the finish line," said the Caisse d'Epargne rider, who also took the ProTour leader's jersey.
"But I won't change my programme to defend it. Next I'll be riding the Tour of Romandy. There are a couple of stages that suit me, but I also hope it can be my turn to help my team-mates win something. Then I'll have a break of about a month. I want to prepare for the Tour de France very carefully and after that I will do the Dauphin Libr," said the 25 year old.
Davide Rebellin was the last to pull off the Ardennes double in 2004, and Valverde became only the fifth rider in cycling history to achieve it. The Spaniard's victory in Lige also underlined a generational change. All of the winners of this year's spring Classics have been 26 or under (the oldest, Frank Schleck, turned 26 the day before he won the Amstel Gold Race).
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