International Cycling

Valverde favourite at Liege

2017-04-22 21:57
Alejandro Valverde (Getty Images)

Liege - The sudden death of Italian Michele Scarponi will overshadow Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege race but fellow veteran Alejandro Valverde will be focused nonetheless on capturing a fourth victory.

On Wednesday, Spaniard Valverde won La Fleche Wallonne for the fourth year in a row and fifth time in total - making him the most successful rider in that race as no one else has won it more than three times.

One such three-time winner of Fleche is Belgian great Eddy Merckx, who holds the record of five victories in Liege.

Valverde would pull to within one victory of that should he win on Sunday and current form suggests the 36-year-old will be tough to beat.

He's had an incredible start to the season, beating the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to win the Tour of Catalonia, while taking titles at the tours of Andalusia and the Basque Country.

Two-time Tour de France winner Contador finished second in all three.

Despite showing great form in mountainous stage races Valverde has lost nothing of his ability to compete in long one-day classics, with his Fleche success demonstrating he has the legs for all terrain and all types of courses.

"I wasn't born for football, I was born to ride bikes," he said following his Fleche win and before the death on Saturday of Scarponi.

"I'm also much more relaxed than I used to be so now I can race to enjoy myself - and what do I enjoy doing? Winning!"

Like everyone else in the cycling world, Valverde was shocked to hear the news of 37-year-old Scarponi's death in a training collision with a van, writing on Twitter: "Without words. A great person and great cyclist has left us."

Liege - known as La Doyenne, the oldest race - will start with a sense of mourning for the popular Italian but attentions will soon turn to the 10 climbs and the chance to win a "Monument" as the spring classics season winds down.

Valverde will have his work cut out to control things the way his team managed at Fleche.

The finish in Ans, just outside Liege, is not as tough as the Fleche's Mur de Huy (Huy wall) finale where the strongest man usually wins.

"It's easier to control things at La Fleche Wallonne," said Valverde.

"At Liege, the danger, tactically, can come from everywhere."

One such danger to his chances will be Ireland's Dan Martin, winner in 2013, who would have retained his title in 2014 but for a crash on the final corner 300 metres from the line as he was surging clear on his own.

"It's a race which suits me better than Fleche and I won't hide the fact I would like to finish on top again," said Martin, who after finishing second to Valverde at Fleche had semi-quipped that he might have to wait for the Spaniard to retire before tasting victory on the Mur de Huy.

With last year's winner Dutchman Wout Poels out injured, other challengers will be two of the form riders this year alongside Valverde: Belgian Greg Van Avermaet and Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland.

Both have already won a Monument this year.

Kwiatkowski was second at the Amstel Gold race and seventh at Fleche. A great tactician, the finish at Liege suits him.

Van Avermaet is more of a cobbled classics specialist but he was seventh at Liege in 2011 and came 12th at Amstel last week.

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