FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – Two weeks ago, Fabian Cancellara was the talk of the cycling media. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has assumed that role with three wins in a week, but Cancellara’s Leopard-Trek teammates aren’t looking past anyone for Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“At Flanders and Roubaix, Fabian was stronger, stronger than Gilbert is now, and he didn’t win,” said Andy Schleck. “Everyone is looking at him and that might be in our favor.”
Cancellara was marked out of the cobbled classics, which director Kim Anderson called “too easy to control,” on Friday. His win at E3 Harelbeke was Leopard’s only win in the spring classics thus far, despite Cancellara’s second-place rides at Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, which have kept him atop the WorldTour standings. Earlier in the week, Gilbert said that the steep parcours for the Ardennes races make that sort of marking difficult and that the riders with the best legs would make it to the finale in Liège.
Fränk Schleck agreed and said, unlike Eddy Merckx a day earlier, that the team could together defeat Gilbert.
“He’s beatable. It’s 260 kilometers; it’s not an easy race,” said Schleck. “We don’t want to beat Gilbert; we just want to win the race.” (story continues below video)
Sitting before the press Friday afternoon with arguably the strongest lineup to face La Doyenne on Sunday, Andy Schleck went down the list of contenders. “That’s not us talking about (Gilbert). That’s you talking,” he said. “Who last year was counting on Vinokourov? We had the press conference last year and nobody mentioned him.
“There’s Gesink, there’s Vinokourov, there’s Kolobnev and Rodriguez. Sanchez. I believe there are ten guys. I don’t think we should just look on Gilbert. We have to keep our eyes open.”
With six riders – the Schlecks, Jens Voigt, Maxime Monfort, Jacob Fugalsang and Fabian Wegmann – fully capable of landing on the podium on Sunday, the team said it would make the race hard early once the peloton arrives to the ten categorized climbs midway through the 255-kilometer race.
“For (Gilbert) it doesn’t have to be a really hard race. For us, it has to be,” said Andy Schleck. “We cannot sit back and wait. He can win in a sprint of 100.”
Much like they did at Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, forcing selective racing is the team’s plan, but the Schlecks both acknowledged that they need a turn around in luck to earn the place atop the podium that Gilbert has occupied for almost two weeks.
“You need this little bit of luck,” said Andy Schleck. “We haven’t had it yet. I’m sure one day the door will open and we will win one.”