About one year ago at this time, the entire cycling world was aghast at the capabilities of Fabian Cancellara. Seemingly able to ride away from his competition with ease, Cancellara rampaged through the first part of the cycling season en route to a banner year that included two monuments and a host of other wins.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Fast forward to 2011 and a different name is on the tip of everyone's tongue: Philippe Gilbert. The 28 year old Belgian has been absolutely aflame thus far in 2011, and he heads into this weekend's Liege-Bastogne-Liege race as the overwhelming favorite. Gilbert, like Cancallara was last year at Roubaix, will be heavily marked throughout LBL, but after amazing performances at both the Amstel Gold Race and the Fleche Wallonne, it looks as though he will be very hard to stop as he tries for the unprecedented quadruple in the Ardennes classics.
Of all riders today, Gilbert seems the most complete. Although he probably won't be able to contend in a grand tour any time soon, every other race is within his ability to win. Each year he has grown stronger, especially in one day tests, and he looks well-positioned to make a legitimate run at winning all five monuments in his career, which is a testament to his versatility as a rider.
Other thoughts heading into the last big one day race of the spring . . .
With exception to Fabian Cancellara's win at the E3, the Leopard-Trek team has underwhelmed thus far. Can't say I'm surprised.
The Katusha team has had a strong presence thus far in the hilly classics, and look in with a real chance at victory in backing "Purito" Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Danilo Di Luca looks like just an average rider without dope.
Damiano Cunego is, without a doubt, done as an elite cyclist. Like Di Luca, he looks the part of an ex-doper.
Sammi Sanchez looks in good position for a top ride at LBL this weekend. He'll bring a strong team to support him, now all he has to do is finally get the tactics right at the end of the race.
If the Schlecks have decent luck this weekend, it would not be a huge surprise to see Andy win again.
Ivan Basso must have a top 10 ride this weekend to ensure him that he is trending upward ahead of July's Tour de France. If not, he'll be dogged by questions throughout the early summer.
It sure will suck if Vino repeats as LBL winner. Hopefully he gets 7 flat tires in the final 30k. Hey, a guy can wish . . .
What's the deal with Robert Gesink? He was supposed to contend for wins in the hilly classics, but has been roundly beaten in the first two tests thus far. He needs to pick it up big time at Liege.
I wonder if Jerome Coppel can make an impression at Liege this year. He is a promising rider, and a real dark horse, but he could show well with just a pinch of luck.
Saxo Bank for Liege is kind of sad. Not a contender in the bunch.
Garmin-Cervelo, after a masterful Paris-Roubaix performance, seem a bit flat for the hilly classics. Ryder Hesjedal is missing that extra gear, and the Frenchman Le Mevel seems better suited to stage races than one day tilts. Hesjedal should bounce back for Liege, but either way Garmin got what they wanted out of the spring: a monument victory.
The time has come for Janez Brajkovic to show up at a big time one day race or risk being called only a stage race hope. Perhaps Liege-Bastogne-Leige 2011 will be that race. If not, there is always ol' reliable Chris Horner, who is usually good for a top 10.