The last of the major Spring Classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, will take place this weekend – and just like in Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold, the hot weather is expected to play a major part in how the race develops.
Temperatures continued to soar into the low thirties on Friday in Liege – a record for this time of year – and there is no sign of the heatwave ending before Monday or Tuesday.
Last year?s winner, Alejandro Valverde, is aiming to repeat his 2006 victory on Sunday. Sixth in Amstel Gold and second in Fleche Wallone on Wednesday, the Caisse D?Epargne rider spent much of Friday checking out the last part of the 262 kilometre route with his team-mates.
Barring some slight changes due to roadworks, Liege remains essentially unaltered. 12 climbs pepper the hilly route through the Ardennes. The much-feared ?trio? of the Cotes de Wanne, Stockeu and Haut Levee often breaks up the race. Other high points are the Redoute 35 kilometres from the finish, the final decisive ascent of St. Nicolas back in Liege and the long rise to the finish in the suburb of Ans.
?It?s a great race, one with a lot of prestige.? Valverde said on Friday. ?I could see at Amstel and Fleche that my rivals are in top condition, even if I feel good as well.?
?The difference between this year and last is that I?m a lot more closely observed during the race and when somebody has to react, they all look towards me to do it.?
Other rivals for La Doyenne include Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), whose second place at Amstel and first in Fleche show the 35-year-old ProTour leader is still in top condition. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) will be gunning to take a third Liege although he was ill mid-week and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas), Phillipe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amstel Gold winner Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) are all strong contenders. Keep an eye out, too, for Riccardo Ricco, the talented young Italian with Saunier Duval-Prodir.
Barring last-minute changes, Paul Manning (Landbouwrediet) is expected to start. He will be Great Britain?s one participant in L-B-L this year.