PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Rebellin, Boogerd, Vinokourov - not a bad podium for Lige-Bastogne-Lige or any other race for that matter. Yet, the criticism after the 2004 edition of Lige was harsh. How can it be that 60 riders are still together at the foot of Saint-Nicolas only six kilometres from the finish? That is not worthy of La Doyenne, cried the chorus. And not because it had happened just that once, but because it had become a recurring situation, writes Susanne Horsdal.
The criticism was taken seriously by ASO, the race organisers, who researched the area - and apparently also the history books - and subsequently changed the parcours for this, the 91st edition of Lige. The most prominent change to the parcours is the re-emergence of the Cote de la Haute Leve, the 3.4-kilometre-long hill with an average gradient of six per cent, but 12 per cent at its steepest.
Haute-Leve is not in itself worse than any other of the climbs in the race, but combined with the Cote de Wanne (at kilometre 171), which has been lengthened, the Cote de Stockeu (at kilometre 177.5), which now comes after a sharp turn, and finally the Haute Leve (at kilometre 183), a famous threesome is making a comeback.
This threesome should provide adequate opportunity for an early attack - that is if someone still has the courage to attack. In the past week - as was also the case last year - we've seen a lot of defensive riding. Though Jens Voigt tried to stir things a bit in Flche Wallonne, both that race and the Amstel Gold Race were controlled by the teams with the pre-race favourites.
However, if that recipe is followed by, say, four to five teams, it's evident that three to four more top teams are going to end up losing without even having really tried something.
With the form Danilo Di Luca has shown this spring it's understandable for his Liquigas team to stick with the tactic of keeping it together on Sunday. According to the Belgian paper Gazet van Antwerpen, Michael Boogerd hopes that his Rabobank team will do the same, and with Davide Rebellin another of the primary contenders, it's highly likely that his Gerolsteiner team-mates will have the same objective.
But, as Quick Step's Rik Verbrugghe puts it, "Whoever is sitting together with Di Luca, Boogerd and Rebellin in the last 10 kilometres is riding for fourth place."
The question is who'll dare to pick up the gauntlet and shake things up a bit - it certainly would be a welcome change and at least the parcours can no longer be used as an excuse not to try something.