Like in 2006, Alejandro Valverde proved he was the strongest of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Rather disappointing after finishing only 20th of the Flèche Wallonne, the Spaniard hit back in style under the bright sunshine on the Belgian Ardennes. Valverde was part of the decisive move in the penultimate climb up the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, before making his effort with just 200m to go, outsprinting Rebellin and Franck Schleck to the finish line. The day’s race started with a group of five riders breaking away after just under 30 kilometres. A vain effort as last man standing, Pierre Rolland was eventually caught before the final battle with 30 kilometres to go.
At the end of the final straight at Ans, where the finish line of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is set and victory decided after a traditionally fierce battle between the specialists of the Ardennes classics, a new page of the cycling season is turned. For several weeks now, the main contenders have started focusing on the oldest of classics that they consider as a precious race to be conquered. The moment has come to put the pressure on the others, to work on the lack of energy noticed in some of the key sectors. Having allowed Damiano Cunego and Kim Kirchen, winners of the Amstel Gold Race and the Fleche Wallonne, to enter the exclusive club of Ardennes winners, the likes of Valverde, Rebellin or F.Schleck now only have one last option left to add a line to their record list with yet another prestigious victory. Added to the strong competition noticed on the first two meetings, they will have to keep an eye out on Paolo Bettini, two-time winner in Belgium's Little Italy (2000, 2002). The World champion, who has modified his usual preparation, shows up with the ambition to catch up a start to the season troubled by physical upsets.
Other than the confrontation between the different generations of Ardennes specialists in which Cadel Evans hopes to find his place, the change established in the final part of the event could also have its importance. Added to the program of difficulties, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, with a climbing gradient close to 10%, could add some riders to the circle of contenders able to conquer the 'Doyenne'.
The main contenders in the 25 teams
Gerolsteiner : Rebellin (Ita), Wegmann, Schumacher (All)
Team Milram : Astarloa (Esp), Grivko (Ukr)
Topsport Vlaanderen : Pauwels (BEL)
Silence - Lotto : Evans (Aus), Popovych (Ukr)
Quick Step : Bettini (Ita), Barredo (Esp)
Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner : Cappelle (Bel)
Team CSC : F.Schleck, A.Schleck (Lux), Kroon (Hol), Sastre (ESP)
Caisse d'Epargne : Valverde, Rodriguez, Pereiro, L.L.Sanchez (Esp)
Euskaltel - Euskadi : Astarloza, Isasi (ESP)
Saunier Duval - Scott : Cobo Acebo (Esp), Ricco (Ita)
High Road : Kirchen (Lux), Boasson Hagen (Nor)
Slipstream Chipotle : Millar (Gbr)
AG2R - La Mondiale : Gadret (Fra), Nocentini (Ita), Valjavec (Slo)
Agritubel : Moreau, Bichot (Fra)
Bouygues Telecom : Pineau, Lefèvre (Fra)
Credit Agricole : Caucchioli (Ita), Gerrans (Aus), Rolland (Fra)
Cofidis Le crédit par téléphone : Moncoutié (Fra), Monfort (Bel)
Française des Jeux : Casar (Fra), Gilbert (Bel)
Barloworld : Soler (Col), Pfannberger (Aut)
Liquigas : Carlström (Fin)
Lampre : Cunego, Rigghi (Ita)
Tinkoff Credit Systems : Ignatiev (Rus)
Rabobank : T.Dekker (Hol), Freire (Esp), Gesink (Hol)
Skil-Shimano : Den Bakker (Hol), Hupond (Fra), Rooijakkers (Hol)
Cycle Collstrop : Wesemann (Sui)
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For the first time of his career, Danilo Di Luca claimed victory in the 93rd edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Italian who had claimed the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne double back in 2005, wins the third big Ardennes Classic.
The race was decided in the final climb of the day, the Côte de Saint Nicolas after four men (Etxebarria, Di Gregorio, Kiriyenka and Kuyckx) had spent most of the day in the lead. Franck Schleck was the first to take off immediately caught by Di Luca.
The Liquigas rider attacked again with under one kilometre to go and crossed the finish line on his own in triumphant fashion. Second spot eventually went to last year’s winner Alejandro Valverde ahead of Schleck.