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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."ADVERTISEMENT 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.
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He came, he smiled and took some selfies with fans, he stood on a podium and he left: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) paid a lightning-fast visit to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège presentation on Saturday, but it was enough to garner the Sicilian some of the biggest cheers of all from the fans present and to remind his rivals that on Sunday, the Shark Of Messina will once again be on the prowl. Last Wednesday, Nibali's attack over the first of three ascents of the Mur effectively lit the touch paper for a series of challenges to Alejandro Valverde's domination, and his long breakaway was instrumental in the wearing down process of the Movistar Team as well. Nibali was caught at the foot of the final ascent of the Mur, but combined with his stunning victory in Milano-Sanremo, his high profile attack at the Tour of Flanders and his long history of Classics success, nobody is ruling out an even more sustained, dangerous attack by the Italian on Sunday.ADVERTISEMENT And Nibali received the warmest of welcomes from the crowds at Saturday's team presentation, too. This could well be because Liège's Italian connections are more than well established, both as a city and a race. Until very recently, Liège has had a centuries-old tradition of Italians migrating there to work in its industries, and the climb to Saint-Nicolas has long been nicknamed 'the Italian corner' because of the number of Nibali's compatriots who have settled in that part of Liege. Nibali's relationship with Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a lengthy and intense one too, with 2018 his 13th participation. As he recounted in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, Liège was the first Monument he took part in and he was dropped on the Haut Levée climb, getting so tired in the process that he said, "my ears were dragging along the ground." He finally finished the race but in 113th position, dead last on the day. In 2012, though, Nibali was almost at the opposite end of the results sheet when he launched a dangerous late attack. He was caught and passed by Maxim Iglinskiy on the drag towards the finish in Ans, however, with the Italian finally settling for second. And although Nibali says that losing to Iglinskiy was a defeat that "still burns", it was also an indicator of what he was capable of doing in a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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Richie Porte will toe the start line at the Tour de Romandie on Tuesday as the defending champion but says he has more modest ambitions this time around. His teammate Tejay van Garderen will join BMC's line-up for the six-day race as the pair continue their preparation for the Tour de France in July. "I'm not putting too much pressure on myself heading into the Tour de Romandie this year as I don't really know where my form is," Porte said. "However, while I have more modest ambitions this year, it is a race I enjoy so I will be going there ready to give 100%. Overall, I think we have a good group of riders lining up so, I am looking forward to getting started. Porte and van Garderen already teamed up at the Tour du Finistère on April 14, where the final kilometres of the course will also be used during stage 5 of the Tour de France from Lorient to Quimper. They used the one-day race as an opportunity to preview those kilometres, and important climbs: Côte de la Montagne de Locronan, Notre-Dame de Lorette and Kerlividic before finishing in Quimper, at race pace.ADVERTISEMENT At Tour de Romandie, Porte and van Garderen will be joined by Tom Bohli, Kilian Frankiny, Joey Rosskopf, Danilo Wyss and Rohan Dennis, who will make his final preparations for the Giro d'Italia. The race starts with a prologue on April 24, followed by two 'classic' stages. There is a 9.9km time trial from Ollon to Villars on stage 3 that could set the tone for the overall classification, followed by the queen stage 4 in Sion that covers five mountain passes. The race will conclude on April 29 in Geneva. BMC's director Fabio Baldato said he put together a well-rounded team where Porte will be the designated team leader, and van Garderen, too, will be protected for the mountain stage and overall classification. "We will go into the race with Richie Porte as our leader. Looking at the parcours, I think the time trial will be important and we will see what the situation is when we reach that," he said in a team press release.
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Philippe Gilbert will once again race as capitaine de route for Quick-Step Floors and their young protegé Julian Alaphilippe on Sunday, and the veteran Belgian star’s key lesson concerning Liège-Bastogne-Liège is that "there aren't 40 different ways of winning it." "In the Ardennes Classics, it's very clear. It's different to the Flemish Classics where lots of different factors can have an effect. Here, if you race intelligently, you know you'll be up there," Gilbert told reporters on Friday. "I always say that these are the easiest races to win when you are going well. You almost know before you start if you are going to win. "The most straightforward strategy is not to lose sight of Valverde, because he’s the big favourite, with all his experience of racing here. He’s seen it all before, and what’s more he’s a rider who never loses his cool.ADVERTISEMENT "He was beaten fair and square by Julian on Wednesday, but he won't be looking for revenge when he puts on his race number on Sunday. He’ll be looking to win, just like he has been doing all season." Gilbert is one of just two riders, together with Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo), who is lining out in all four Monuments this spring. But after two years away from Liège-Bastogne-Liège because of injuries, the Belgian was keen to take part in La Doyenne again. It is a race which Gilbert won in 2011 and in which he had taken part every year from 2003, when he turned pro, up until 2015. "I’m a bit on the limit, particularly after so many Classics were held in bad weather,” Gilbert said. “I noticed that on Wednesday, but I could still do my work for the team, and that'll hopefully be the case again on Sunday.
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Lotto Soudal have put on a determinedly united front for Liège-Bastogne-Liège after a mini-spat after La Flèche Wallonne between Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert. According to La Dernière Heure, Vanendert was sharply criticised by Wellens for failing to work for him, and breaking a pre-race agreement on tactics. On the day, Vanendert finished third on the Mur de Huy, while Wellens took seventh. Lotto Soudal are one of the strongest teams collectively in the hilly Classics this year, and even prior to their Flèche Wallone results, the Belgian squad had won Brabantse Pijl and taken sixth in Amstel with Wellens, as well as tenth in Amstel with Vanendert.ADVERTISEMENT But their failure to establish a clear hierarchy on the Mur de Huy did not go unnoticed by their rivals: Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors), who took Lotto’s last big Classic win at Liege in 2011, said, somewhat drily, on Friday, that “the type of internal crisis I saw in Lotto Soudal after the Mur de Huy would not happen in our team.” Meanwhile, in his weekly column for La Meuse newspaper on Saturday, former Classics star Johan Museeuw wrote: “If I was in Vanendert’s place, I would try to get in a good breakaway in the finale [of Liège] so he doesn’t have to work for Wellens.” Come their pre-race press conference for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the team appeared with three riders as their co-leaders: Vanendert, who was not originally slated to have a top role, according to La Dernière Heure, but has now earned protected status, Tiesj Benoot, who is riding his first Doyenne, and Wellens. Both Lotto management and the riders themselves were at pains to put Wednesday’s spat behind them. “Tim’s declaration was an emotional reaction,” said team manager Marc Sergeant. “He was disappointed about his result, but Jelle did nothing wrong, he was simply very strong.”
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Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal has echoed the comments of his rider Chris Froome, saying that the four-time Tour de France winner is on track with his form ahead of his tilt at the Giro d’Italia title next month. Froome finished fourth overall at the recent Tour of the Alps, 16 seconds behind the overall winner Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). It wasn’t for a want of trying as he attacked repeatedly over the five stages but he was unable to crack his rivals, and his result broke a run of victories for Team Sky at the race. With his ambition to target both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this season, Portal says that Froome is taking a similar approach to his Tour-Vuelta double last season. “I think he’s right where the team expects him to be. He’s got the Giro but he also wants to perform well in the Tour,” Portal told Cyclingnews ahead of the final stage of the Tour of the Alps.ADVERTISEMENT “When you have the Giro and the Tour it’s really hard. Maybe you start earlier, but you have less room. You want to do some long rides to get the base for both of the Grand Tours, but at the same time, you want to do some intensity. You don’t want to go too hard too early because then you might be really good in the Giro and then pass through the Tour de France without anything. It has been quite hard and I think that he’s in the right place.” Racing the Tour of the Alps also gave Froome and the team an opportunity to size up their rivals for the Giro d’Italia. Following the race, Froome said that it was hard to read too much into how the contenders fared in the much shorter race, but it has given them some insight into where their form lies two weeks out from the big event. “[Domenico] Pozzovivo is on really good form, all of them are on really good form, [Thibaut] Pinot, Froomey and [Miguel Angel] Lopez. They will be even better when they recover from here,” said Portal. “They will have that benefit from the competition. You push hard and you’re tired, but you recover and you’re stronger. They’ve got a few blocks of training to polish things. Those guys need to race and they are always getting better when they race hard.” Giro d'Italia line-up
You can read more at Cyclingnews.com