We finally finally had an EXCELLENT weather day so I spent it completely outdoors from 11am to 10pm. Finally at 10:30pm I am getting to watch LBL. Luckily i taped it!
The 97th edition (i think) started off with a few failed attacks; the peloton reeled them in after assessing it didn't contain the "correct" combination. It was fun to see some of the same guys attempt to get into every break. Clearly their order was to get into any move that goes off the front early in the race. Even though the pain isn't as bad when you attack early in the race, you still have the thought that there is still over 250km of very very hard riding ahead of you which seems to make up for the lack of pain!
The race announcer just told a cute story about Phillipe Gilbert (FDJ). When he was young, he used to sit at the base of the Cote de la redoute starting a week before the LBL event waiting for the pros to come by to ride the hill. And just before they reached him, he'd get on his bike to ride alongside the pros. He rode with Laurent Jalabert (jaja) on one of these yearly ascents.
Finally a break of 5 got away with up to a 13 minute lead. Uh-oh. One of them was dropped.
I just spotted Paolo Bettini. Wow. He came into the season a little heavy with the expectation to race his way into shape. By now he should be ripped but due to his injury - i think it was a broken rib from Tour of the Basque early this month - he's looking a little heavier than his usual fit selt at this time of year. I wonder if he's sitting in the middle of the peloton cursing that white (world champion) jersey and shorts with the wide white band. White has to be the hardest color to wear when you're feeling a little bloated. Considering he's riding in 6th wheel on a climb at 70km to go, he probably has other thoughts on his mind - like how am I going to win this thing. What a stud.
One of the 4 breakaway riders was dropped. Normally that wouldn't be worth mentioning but his last name is Kop. This means "head" as in "in the lead". In dutch, they say "kop van de wedstrijd' that translates into "head of the race." Oops, i take it back. I just saw his name written and it's spelled Kopp. Never mind.
Phillipe Gilbert just attacked and has already overtaken Kopp. Gilbert is now 1 1/2 minutes behind the three leaders and 40 seconds ahead of the peloton. It takes a lot of guts to attack 60km before the finish line and try to go it solo.
Oh my god! They are passing through roads that I've been ridden. I don't know why i find that exciting, but i do.
Gilbert is now about 1 minute behind the head group of 3. Now if he's already peaked many weeks ago, then he should be peaked out by now which makes his solo effort admirable. It also makes it a failed effort for a win. So the question remains...why jump away from the peloton if you know you have no chance to win? Maybe it is to take the pressure off of a teammate who is still in the peloton. Maybe it is for TV coverage. Maybe it is to prove to naysayers like me that he is still enjoying peak fitness. Or maybe the effort is for training.
My guess is this: He used to live nearby, and the timing of his attack puts him in with a very strong chance to pass through his former hometown of Remouchamps, where Cote de la Redoute is located, while off the front of the peloton. To make this happen, he has to stay away from the peloton for 12km. The peloton is 54 seconds behind and the three leaders are 1:02 ahead. He better pedal faster because he's losing time quickly. Will he make it? If i am correct with my guess, then his "finish line" is theoretically 34km shorter than the rest of many of the riders.
Uh-oh. 7km to go with the peloton only 30 seconds behind. Will he pass through his hometown off the front of the peloton? Funny enough, the race announcers just said that his imaginary finish line is the top Cote de la Redoute because he wants to put in a good show for his former hometown. Score. I win. Well, at least the announcers agree with my guess. 3km to go with the peloton 35 seconds in tow.
Gilbert just made the turn onto the climb with an 18 second lead on the peloton. It starts off gradual just after it leaves town, then when you make that blind left-hander, the pitch goes crazy - up up up and away. He's done it. The crowds lining the climb are going crazy. I would guess it's more important to those fans that he ride solo up the hill in front of the peloton so they could easily spot him and cheer for him than if he were to win.
The climb is riddled with PHIL PHIL PHIL written all the way up the climb. The race announcer just said that it must be a great feeling to ride over your name. I'd have to agree. Determined to make it to the top ahead of the peloton, Gilbert is clearly giving it everything he had. Wow, the crowds are completely engulfing him. He'd even benefited from a few ass-pushes along the way. Although it's very illegal to accept pushes, I doubt there will be any complaints from any of the other riders.
AND THERE GOES BETTINI! He just dropped the peloton as they were trackstanding. That guy is amazing. He's cracked a lot of legs and spirits with his attack. And Andy Schleck just countered Bettini's move. About ten seconds after the group caught Bettini - just at the false flat on the top of the climb - Schleck went. Great timing. You have to have amazing legs to have the courage to attack just at the top of that climb. I've done it once after 4 hours of hard riding and just to get up it was not very pleasurable.
Schleck was just joined by Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner. On a side note, I once passed Schumacher (in the opposite direction) on a training ride on Highway 1 climbing out of Stinson Beach. He was ascending that climb at about 3km/hr. It takes a pro to have the discipline to pedal that slowly on a training ride.
By the way, Danilo Di Luca is not in the race because his team was not invited to participate. That's sad that last year's winner has no chance to defend his title.
And Bettini is attacking again at 29km to go. The way he's riding you'd never guess just recently he was in the
The race announcer just told a story about Bettini and Bartoli. Many years ago, when former teammates Bettini and Bartoli stayed at a hotel together during Routa del Sol race, Bettini carried Bartoli (team leader) two flights of stairs up to his room so he didn't tire his legs out before the race.
Back to the race. At 20km before the finish, Schleck and Schumacher are still working together to keep a 22 second lead over the hard-charging peloton.
Cadel Evans (silence-lotto) just attacked on a climb. His effort brought the peloton one second closer to the dynamic duo up front. Up front, Schleck just left Schumacher. Considering Schumacher is not a climbing specialist but rather an excellent flat/undulating/sprinting kind-of-guy, this is not terribly surprising.
At 18km, it looks like Andy Schleck just held off on the power for a moment to wait for his brother Frank who is now on his wheel. And of they go - The two Schlecks, Valverde, Rebellin, and Joachim Rodriguez. Chasing them (at 15 seconds behind) are Cadel Evans, Cunego and Phannberger. The peloton is at 35 seconds.
They just showed the stadium of Standard Luik voetbal ploeg (Standard soccer team who just won the Belgian Championship this Season. They haven't won it in 25 years so it was a big deal when they took the title last week.
At 8km to go, Andy Schleck is off the front of the head group and his brother/teammate Frank is blocking. The gap to the second group is now about 45 seconds so it's looking like the winner will come from the front group. Rebellin is leading the chase to Andy. The just caught andy and naturally Frank attacked, leaving Andy for dead. It's not an easy task to drop Valverde or rebellin so i'd guess he's not going to get far. And we are not at the top of the last climb - 5km to go to the finish and the three are altogether.
Now that Frank may have burned the last of his energy stores, i'd suppose the winner will be either Valverde or Rebellin. The finish is slightly uphill which could favor either one. Maybe Rebellin will take it because he's more of a power rider. OK, i change my mind. Valverde is a much better sprinter - even if the course is slightly uphill. I forgot he placed 2nd behind Tom Boonen when he won World Championships. He has two silvers and a bronze in World Championships in fact.
It is under the 1km mark and the two (rebellin and valverde) are staring at each other while riding at about 6km/hr up the gradual climb. They have Schleck blocked in behind them. They just turned the corner and the finish line is in sight about 100 meters ahead. And they're off! Valverde easily takes it over Rebellin.
In hindsight, if i could play "Belgian non-cyclist sitting on couch critiquing race tactics" for a moment, I would say that i wonder what would have happened if Rebellin attacked just before the left hand turn. Rebellin had the inside line and could make a second on Valverde in the turn. That one second could have given him enough time to cross the line first. But in reality, considering Rebellin is one of the smartest guys in the peloton when it comes to race tactics, I would guess he made the best decision that gave him the best chance for success.
The spring classics are now officially over, so i am off now to cry myself to sleep. There are still many days until the Giro. And even MORE until cyclo-cross season.
Thanks for reading!